Intelligence chief Grenell hits back against Schiff criticism of agency reorganization

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell on Tuesday hit back against recent criticism of the reorganization of intelligence community (IC) agencies from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests MORE (D-Calif.). 

Grenell wrote to Schiff that the reorganization under his leadership came on the heels of calls for change from intelligence committee staffers. 

“Career IC officials have conducted four studies in the last two years calling for reforms at the ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence], and the career officials are eager to implement the recommendations,” Grenell wrote in a sharply worded letter to Schiff. “It is my duty to listen to these ODNI career employees who have ideas on how to improve the work we do for the American people.” 

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Grenell added that he would “encourage” Schiff to “think of the relationship between your committee and the IC as that between the legislative and executive branches of government, rather than that between a hedge fund and a distressed asset, as your letter suggests.”

Grenell’s letter was sent two weeks after Schiff sent him a missive strongly criticizing steps he had taken to reorganize the intelligence community since being appointed acting director of national intelligence.

Schiff noted that Grenell was pursuing leadership changes at intelligence agencies without seeking authorization from Congress and raised questions about the removal or departure of every Senate-confirmed official at the ODNI. 

Schiff also accused Grenell of allowing his staff to “interfere with the production and briefing of intelligence information” on election security that was given to Congress during a March 10 all-members briefing on election security. 

Grenell wrote to Schiff that intelligence community staff were “offended” by his allegations that they did not give “unvarnished” intelligence reports to Congress. 

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“As the Acting DNI, I am compelled to defend these career officers from unsubstantiated indictments of their motivations and judgment,” Grenell wrote. “Many are offended by the accusations that they did not share unvarnished assessments. If you share with me the reports you believe provide evidence for these claims, I can promise you that I will review them with the seriousness such accusations demand.” 

Another issue raised by Schiff was the decision by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE to fire Michael Atkinson, the now-former acting inspector general of the IC. Atkinson alerted Congress to the anonymous whistleblower complaint around Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that ultimately kicked off the impeachment investigation into Trump.   

Schiff's concerns over Atkinson's dismissal, along with other staffing issues, were not addressed by Grenell in Tuesday's letter, something Schiff expressed frustration over in a statement provided to The Hill on Tuesday. 

“In his letter, Acting Director Grenell did not respond in any way to our oversight requests regarding the decision to fire the IC IG, sudden staffing changes at the NCTC, and his pursuit of structural and personnel changes at the ODNI without the approval of Congress," Schiff said. "The Acting Director failed to respond to important questions about whether the IC IG was investigating matters that may go uninvestigated as a result of his firing by Trump."

Schiff emphasized that "the simple fact he was not willing to respond to a reasonable request from his agency’s oversight committee raises new basis for our concerns, particularly given this Administration’s history of covering up blatant misconduct." 

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Grenell did comment on staffing changes at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), but only to criticize Schiff for not addressing the increased “diversity” in the intelligence community through the appointment of Lora Shiao as acting director of the NCTC and of Clare Linkins as the executive director of the NCTC. 

“Diversity of the IC workforce should always be celebrated, and I am proud that we increased diversity within the ODNI's senior ranks, to include more women and members of the LGBT community,” Grenell wrote. 

Shiao and Linkins were appointed following the retirement of former acting NCTC Director Russell Travers in March. President Trump nominated Christopher Miller to serve as a permanent director of the NCTC last month. 

Grenell pointedly ended his letter by telling Schiff he hoped future letters would be more bipartisan, as Schiff was not joined by any committee Republicans in sending his initial letter. 

“I strongly agree with your statement of a bipartisan legislative commitment to the IC,” Grenell wrote. “I would hope to see this commitment reflected on the signature line of your future letters.” 

Schiff told The Hill that while his committee "remains ready" to work with the ODNI, Grenell must "rise to meet the serious responsibilities of his office as long as he occupies it."

Grenell, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to Germany, was appointed acting director of national intelligence in February by Trump after Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireCongressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones Hillicon Valley: Pompeo floats TikTok ban | Civil rights groups slam Facebook after call | Election security funding included in proposal MORE stepped down from the role.

Maguire, who had also been serving in an acting capacity, left the position after being strongly reprimanded by Trump for allowing officials in the intelligence community to brief the House Intelligence Committee, including Schiff, on concerns that Russia may be seeking to interfere in the 2020 presidential election in an effort to reelect Trump.

-Updated at 3:20 p.m. to include input from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.