Updated Feb 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump to install loyalist Ric Grenell as acting intelligence chief

Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

President Trump confirmed in a tweet Wednesday night that he will install Richard Grenell, the current U.S. ambassador to Germany and a staunch defender of the president, as the acting director of national intelligence.

Why it matters: The role, which was originally vacated by Dan Coats in August 2019, is one of grave responsibility. As acting DNI, Grenell will be charged with overseeing and integrating the U.S. intelligence community and will advise the president and the National Security Council on intelligence matters that concern national security.

  • Trump has made no secret of his deep suspicion of and antipathy toward the intelligence community — which he has told advisers is populated by "Deep State" operatives who "hate Trump."
  • In Grenell, Trump will have an unwavering loyalist overseeing the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. Grenell supported Trump during his 2016 campaign and has close ties to Trump's inner circle and the political network surrounding the White House.
  • Grenell will also be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary.

Between the lines: Before being confirmed as ambassador to Germany, Grenell spent much of the previous two decades as a political adviser to Republicans, as the longest-serving U.S. spokesperson to the United Nations, and as the founder of Capitol Media Partners — a media and public affairs consultancy. Grenell has never worked for an intelligence agency.

  • A regular on Fox News, Grenell has been aggressively pursuing Trump's agenda in Germany, earning high praise from Trump and impassioned complaints from some German politicians.
  • Grenell has already been Senate-confirmed as ambassador to Germany. It's not yet clear whether Trump will ultimately nominate him for the permanent DNI position, which would require another Senate confirmation. Trump has told people he likes putting people in "acting" positions because it gives him flexibility.

On Trump's behalf as ambassador, Grenell has pressured German companies to cut business with Iran, urged Germany to hike its NATO contributions and warned the Germans against participating in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia.

  • And on Sunday, Grenell tweeted: ".@realDonaldTrump just called me from AF1 and instructed me to make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share Intelligence and information at the highest level."
  • Some German politicians objected to this Twitter diplomacy, but Grenell doubled down. "No one is threatening you," he tweeted. "I could say you are threatening the US that we must continue as usual even when you make dangerous mistakes. We get to have our own policy too."

The big picture: Trump had a fraught relationship with previous DNI Coats and blocked deputy DNI Sue Gordon from becoming acting director upon Coats' departure in August 2019.

  • He later planned to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), another loyalist who withdrew himself from consideration after it became clear some senators had concerns about his record.
  • The current acting DNI Joseph Maguire came under scrutiny early in his tenure for refusing to send Congress the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which contained allegations that ultimately led to Trump's impeachment.

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Pro-Trump warrior takes the helm of U.S. intelligence

Richard Grenell in Berlin. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

By picking Ambassador Richard Grenell to be acting director of national intelligence, President Trump has slotted a pro-Trump warrior into the ultimate apolitical role.

What they're saying: James Clapper, the longest-serving DNI (2010-2017), tells Axios it's "very worrisome installing a partisan with no real intelligence experience in this position."

Trump again nominates Rep. John Ratcliffe for intelligence chief

Ratcliffe at CPAC on Feb. 27. Photo: Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

President Trump again nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) as Director of National Intelligence (DNI), in a tweet on Friday.

Catch up quick: If confirmed, Ratcliffe would eventually replace Richard Grenell, a staunch defender of Trump and former U.S. ambassador to Germany who was installed as the acting DNI only a few weeks ago. Grenell would have had to leave the post on March 11 unless Trump formally nominated someone else to oversee the U.S. intelligence community, the New York Times reports.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Retired admiral who oversaw bin Laden raid defends outgoing intelligence chief

Acting DNI Joseph Maguire walks to a congressional briefing at the Capitol on Jan. 8 in D.C. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Retired Navy Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, defended former acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire in a Washington Post op-ed on Friday.

What he's saying: "...in this administration, good men and women don’t last long. Joe was dismissed for doing his job: overseeing the dissemination of intelligence to elected officials who needed that information to do their job," McRaven writes.