House

Pelosi blasts Trump’s ‘dangerous’ pick for intelligence chief

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday condemned President Trump’s choice this week to tap Richard Grenell as the acting director of national intelligence, comparing his lack of experience to her being asked to perform brain surgery.

Trump designated Grenell, a fierce defender of the president who has served as U.S. ambassador to Germany since 2018, for the role following former acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire’s resignation this week.

Pelosi joined other Democrats in questioning Grenell’s qualifications for the role, given that he has never served in a U.S. intelligence agency.

“It would be like sending me in for brain surgery, to do brain surgery on somebody. What?! Just doesn’t know the territory. And it’s very important territory. So what the president did is dangerous,” Pelosi said during a press conference in Houston.

Maguire’s departure came after Trump reportedly was angered by lawmakers in both parties receiving a classified briefing last week about election security, including on the intelligence community’s belief that Russia is already taking steps to again interfere in U.S. elections and to help him win.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump decided against nominating Maguire to continue in his post on a permanent basis after learning that one of his staff members, Shelby Pierson, conducted the briefing on Capitol Hill and questioned his loyalty.

The New York Times reported shortly after that Trump was particularly irritated that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led the recent House impeachment proceedings, was in the intelligence briefing. Trump complained that Schiff would “weaponize” the intelligence about Russia’s support for his reelection in November.

The House Intelligence panel, on which Pelosi previously served, traditionally had a reputation for being nonpartisan, but that has evaporated in recent years.

Pelosi defended the need for members of Congress to receive regular intelligence briefings from the administration.

“The administration are the custodians of the intelligence, but the intelligence belongs to the Congress of the United States as well. And we need to know what they know so that we can make our decisions,” she said.

“So for the president to object to Congress getting that information — it’s frankly not unusual, but that it is public is unusual, A, and B, for him therefore to oust the director of national intelligence and put somebody in with absolutely no credentials whatsoever for the job, for something that is very much a part of our national security, this is dangerous. This is dangerous to our country,” she continued. 

Grenell has confirmed that he is only serving in the role on a temporary basis. Trump tweeted on Friday that four candidates are under consideration for a permanent DNI replacement, and that he would make a decision within the “next few weeks.”

The White House pointed to Grenell’s previous positions as special envoy for Serbia-Kosovo negotiations and a U.S. spokesman to the United Nations as evidence of “years of experience working with our intelligence community.”

“He is committed to a non-political, non-partisan approach as head of the Intelligence Community, on which our safety and security depend,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. 

Pelosi announced Thursday night that lawmakers will receive a briefing on election security on March 10. Both House and Senate members will be briefed separately.

Lawmakers included an additional $425 million for election security in a government funding packaged that Trump signed into law in December.

Democrats have tried to go further in enhancing election security following Russia’s interference in 2016. 

The House has passed multiple bills to protect American elections from foreign interference, such as requiring candidates to notify the FBI if they receive offers of foreign assistance, mandating more transparency in political ads on social media platforms and requiring paper ballots in federal elections. But the GOP-controlled Senate has declined to take them up.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Joseph Maguire Nancy Pelosi Richard Grenell Stephanie Grisham The New York Times The Washington Post
See all Hill.TV See all Video