February 25, 2020

Richard Grenell Appointed Acting DNI

Last Wednesday, “President Donald Trump announced that Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, will become acting director of national intelligence… Grenell follows Joseph Maguire, who has been acting national intelligence director since August.” AP News

Last Thursday, The New York Times reported that “Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected… The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said… though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing might have played a role in [Maguire being replaced], two administration officials said the timing was coincidental.” New York Times

See past issues

From the Left

The left criticizes the firing of Maguire and the appointment of Grenell, arguing that Grenell is unqualified and overly partisan.

“The talking point President Donald Trump and top administration officials are using to explain the abrupt dismissal of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire — namely, that his dismissal was required by law — doesn’t add up… National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien claimed Maguire had to go because he couldn’t serve as acting director of national intelligence past March 11 due to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act… [But] Maguire could’ve stayed on as acting director of national intelligence indefinitely had Trump nominated someone to become Senate-confirmed before March 11…

“Also, if the Trump administration is really concerned about the March 11 cutoff, then appointing Grenell to the acting role won’t address it, as he now faces the same deadline that Maguire did before his dismissal… Maguire’s ouster may be part of Trump’s broader effort to get rid of government officials he perceives as being insufficiently loyal.”
Aaron Rupar, Vox

“The New York Times reports that Trump was angry [at Maguire] because he was afraid Democrats would use [the information about Russian interference] against him. And I suppose he’s right. Another alternative, of course, would be for Trump to do something about Russian interference, which would neuter any possible Democratic complaints. Apparently, though, that’s out of the question. Don’t you know there’s an election coming up?”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

“Russian election meddling is not the only area where Trump doesn’t want to hear the conclusions of his top spies. For weeks now, officials in the country’s intelligence agencies, and in oversight committees on Capitol Hill, have been trying to determine [the] fate of the intelligence community’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment… as it has in past years, it contains the conclusion that Russia, not Ukraine, meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections in an effort to help Trump, and is doing so again this year. But as past ones have, this year’s assessment also contains other conclusions that are at odds with the president…

“Officials familiar with the document say it contradicts Trump’s stated positions on: the likelihood of North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program; the prospects that a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign will force Iran to abandon its nuclear efforts; whether ISIS remains a threat; and climate change as a threat to national security. The effort to block the release of the threat assessment cuts against more than a decade of increased transparency during which the report has been made public in redacted form.”
John Walcott, Time

Regarding Grenell, “[he] has little intelligence experience and has never run a large bureaucracy. Before he was dispatched to Berlin, he worked as a public affairs consultant and commentator for Fox News. Before that, he was a communications official in President George W. Bush’s administration… [He] has been an aggressive public cheerleader for Mr. Trump, fiercely and frequently defending him on Fox News and on social media. That appears to be the qualification that truly matters to this president — especially when it comes to overseeing an intelligence community that Mr. Trump has always believed has been out to get him…

“Presidents have tended to shy away from politicizing national intelligence — or at least tried to avoid the perception of such politicization. But Mr. Trump has made clear that he will not tolerate any discussion of Russia’s meddling in American politics, no matter how compelling the evidence. He is sending a very public message: In this White House, protecting Donald Trump’s interests is what matters.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“The DNI must be seen as a neutral arbiter among America's vast intelligence community that ranges from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) to the FBI, DEA and intelligence units of the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security and Treasury… He or she must be a mediator, bringing often-conflicting people and ideas together to reach a consensus or at least a viable menu of choices for the president's final decision on life-or-death matters. But above all, this individual must be deeply conversant with the arcane language and practices, sources and methods that make up the core mission of the intelligence communities… Rick Grenell brings none of this to the table.”
David A. Andelman, CNN

[Our allies] won’t trust us if our own officers face constant pressure to politicize intelligence. That means reporting streams will dry up, we won’t get early warning on planned attacks and we will lose critical knowledge about the decisions adversaries are making that may not have consequences today, but could have huge ones in the next decade. It’s impossible to know how many clues we will miss if our intelligence community is isolated from the world and the president’s daily brief only reinforces what the administration wants to hear… I hope Mr. Grenell makes a careful assessment of the intelligence community’s capacities and impressive work force before making further changes. How dangerous it would be if we lose the tip of the spear against those who would destroy us.”
Jane Harman, New York Times

From the Right

The right praises Grenell, arguing that fears about his qualifications and partisanship are overblown.

The right praises Grenell, arguing that fears about his qualifications and partisanship are overblown.

“Grenell would be an odd choice if Trump wished to downplay Russian threats. To start, he is a longtime Russia hawk. Last year, for example, he warned German companies building the NordStream II pipeline between Germany and Russia that they would risk U.S. sanctions if they went forward with the project. More important, Grenell himself has said he will only be acting director, and that he expects the president will soon nominate someone else for the position. Intelligence assessments involve the input of 16 agencies and often take months to complete, so it would be near impossible for someone serving as acting director for a short period of time to suppress or alter intelligence products…

”So appointing Grenell may be less an effort to censor intelligence than a bit of hostage politics with the Senate. If the Senate doesn’t confirm Trump’s nominee, Grenell can serve for months. The two leading candidates for the job are Representative Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, and Pete Hoekstra, the current ambassador to the Netherlands and former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Both would likely face opposition from Democrats. The White House is hoping to force Democrats to hold their noses and not delay the confirmation.”
Eli Lake, Bloomberg

“Grenell is highly unlikely to try and turn the intelligence community into a partisan war horse. Such an effort would fail in face of the institutional impulses those agencies have for the national interest and their mission. Moreover, for all his Twitter comments, Grenell is a patriot. From his seven-year tenure as chief spokesman at the United Nations and his time in Berlin (which has a large CIA station he would have liaised with), Grenell will know that good intelligence is forward-leaning, corroborated, and commensurate with policy-maker needs…

“In Grenell, Trump now has a smart, loyal voice to guide him on matters of national security. But the intelligence community also gets something: a leader with Trump's ear, and someone who is keen to impress. Both sides, then, can forge common ground in America's interest.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“The DNI doesn’t have budgetary, personnel, or command authority over the community he overlooks; his job is to assess the intelligence that the IC creates, ask tough questions in an attempt to expose weakness or uncertainty, and present the views of the IC to the president in a useful form… In other words, the DNI is an evaluator, not an operator. Like top political leaders, he consumes rather than produces intelligence…

“There have been five Senate-confirmed DNIs since the job was created. Only two of them (Admiral Mike McConnell and James Clapper) came from the IC. The first DNI — John Negroponte — was a career diplomat and ambassador who went on to be deputy secretary of state. Another, Admiral Dennis Blair, came out of the Surface Navy and was a former commander of the United States Pacific Command. The latest DNI was Dan Coates, a well-respected Senator who had been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The point is that DNIs come from a number of different backgrounds… [Grenell] has years of international experience at both the U.N. and as ambassador to Germany, as well as in private life. In those capacities, he has had ample opportunity to see the strengths and weaknesses of the IC.”
Jim Talent, National Review

“The attempt to portray the ambassador as some kind of toady betrays the fact the critics’ real fear is the president being served by those truly devoted to his agenda—that is, that he be afforded the same privileges as every other president. Grenell will no doubt have his work cut out for him in overseeing some who will seek to undercut him to protect their turf from an executive they believe has infringed upon it. But Grenell’s experience both in navigating a hostile UN, and grappling with the seminal national security and foreign policy issues of our time in the face of a recalcitrant German government, will no doubt serve him well.”
Ben Weingarten, The Federalist

Regarding the intelligence briefing, “The Republicans' objection was not to the idea that Russia is trying to interfere in a U.S. election. That is an accepted fact. The problem was the assessment that Russia is specifically trying to help reelect Trump. That claim, so incendiary in the 2016 election, was unsupported by the evidence, they said… intelligence officials did not have the evidence to make that assertion, and, almost as soon as the story broke, officials with knowledge of the meeting suggested that the headlines were wrong. On Sunday, CNN reported the officials had apparently ‘overstated’ the Putin-wants-Trump story…

“And then there were the circumstances of the briefing. The Intelligence Community works for the president. Yet, officials chose to brief Schiff's House Intelligence Committee on this extraordinarily consequential finding before telling the president… Later, just to make matters more difficult, there were leaks that Russia is also trying to help elect Bernie Sanders. The leak left many experts baffled, except to the extent that, with the Trump leak, it seemed to target the Intelligence Community's two least-favorite candidates.”
Byron York, Washington Examiner

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