President Trump on Friday announced that Stephen Feinberg, a New York billionaire who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, will chair a White House executive board that reviews the effectiveness and legality of foreign intelligence.
Feinberg, in the early months of Trump’s presidency, was rumored to be under consideration to lead some kind of broad-based review of the intelligence community, which Trump was then blaming for the departure of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
But that role never materialized. Now, he will head the so-called President’s Intelligence Advisory Board — a committee made up of nongovernment employees that gets access to a wide swath of intelligence information and acts as an independent monitor on the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.
The panel has no legal authority and its influence has risen and fallen depending on the president in question. Former President Carter once disbanded it entirely.
Feinberg, who has no previous experience working in government intelligence, is the first person Trump has appointed to the board. Previous reports had suggested that Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who backed Trump in the 2016 campaign, was also in the running for the post.
Feinberg’s influence on the president will be closely watched. In the first year of his presidency, Trump has had a tumultuous relationship with his own intelligence community, thanks to its unanimous conclusion that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election.
The FBI in 2016 opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Moscow, now in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump calls the probe a “witch hunt.”
Trump blamed the intelligence community last year for the exposure of an unverified dossier full of salacious allegations about his personal conduct. The president invoked Nazi Germany in railing over the leak of the dossier, saying, “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
Most recently, he has launched broadside attacks against his own Justice Department, accusing the FBI of corruption.
When Feinberg was originally rumored to be up for an intelligence review position, the Trump administration was reportedly weighing a widespread restructuring of the intelligence community — potentially to include doing away with the Office of the National Director of Intelligence, led by Dan Coats.
Feinberg is a co-founder of the private equity company, Cerberus Capital Management. Through Cerberus, Feinberg controls DynCorp, which contracts security to the State Department and other agencies.