President Trump on Wednesday tapped Richard Grenell, the current U.S. ambassador to Germany, to be the acting director of national intelligence, elevating a trusted adviser to oversee an intelligence community even though Mr. Grenell’s background doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the all-important post.
Mr. Grenell, an openly gay supporter of Mr. Trump, would lead an agency that the president sees as one of the “deep state” intelligence agencies that tried to remove him from office.
“I am pleased to announce that our highly respected Ambassador to Germany, @RichardGrenell, will become the Acting Director of National Intelligence. Rick has represented our Country exceedingly well and I look forward to working with him. I would like to thank Joe Maguire for the wonderful job he has done, and we look forward to working with him closely, perhaps in another capacity within the Administration!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.
The White House on Thursday addressed criticism that Mr. Grenell lacks intelligence experience, saying “he has years of experience working with our Intelligence Community in a number of additional positions, including as Special Envoy for Serbia-Kosovo negotiations and as United States spokesman to the United Nations.”
“He is committed to a non-political, non-partisan approach as head of the Intelligence Community, on which our safety and security depend,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “The president has every confidence that Ambassador Grenell will perform his new duties with distinction.”
The New York Times first reported the imminent appointment.
Mr. Maguire is the current acting DNI, but must leave the post by March 12 because of laws related to temporary heads of major government agencies.
U.S. law permits Mr. Trump to pick any Senate-confirmed official — such as Mr. Grenell, for his ambassadorship — to be acting head of the agency, an umbrella group for the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.
James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, said on CNN Thursday that he’s not feeling safer in light of the pick.
“I spent my entire professional life in intelligence and I found the position of director of National Intelligence very tough,” he said. “And so I can’t imagine that challenge that somebody has in that position learning the ABCs of intelligence on the job.”
Some top Democrats in Congress also slammed the president’s choice, saying he’s trying to avoid congressional oversight. Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Mr. Trump “has selected an individual without any intelligence experience to serve as the leader of the nation’s intelligence community in an acting capacity.”
“This is the second acting director the president has named to the role since the resignation of Dan Coats, apparently in an effort to sidestep the Senate’s constitutional authority to advise and consent on such critical national security positions, and flouting the clear intent of Congress when it established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2004,” Mr. Warner said. He said the U.S. intelligence community “deserves stability and an experienced individual to lead them in a time of massive national and global security challenges.”
“And at a time when the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice has been called into grave question, now more than ever our country needs a Senate-confirmed intelligence director who will provide the best intelligence and analysis, regardless of whether or not it’s expedient for the president who has appointed him,” he said.
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