Trump expected to tap Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting intel chief
President Trump announced Wednesday that he is tapping U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as his acting director of national intelligence.
The New York Times first reported and a source confirmed to The Hill earlier Wednesday that Trump was expected to choose Grenell, a close ally, to replace current acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who has served in the role since August. The president then announced his plans in a tweet, shortly before a campaign stop in Phoenix.
Maguire is required by law to leave his position by March 12.
“I am pleased to announce that our highly respected Ambassador to Germany, @RichardGrenell, will become the Acting Director of National Intelligence,” Trump tweeted.
“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!” the president wrote.
….for the wonderful job he has done, and we look forward to working with him closely, perhaps in another capacity within the Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2020
Grenell is one of the more trusted members of the administration and is close with Trump’s family, especially Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son.
According to one former State Department official, Grenell is treated as “extended family.”
“Unwavering loyalty. I can’t recall an incident where he has expressed any concern, annoyance or frustration with Trump,” the official said of Grenell’s relationship with the president.
Grenell’s move to the top intelligence post comes as the president seeks to rid his administration of officials he feels have crossed him following the impeachment inquiry and move those he trusts to top positions.
Under federal law, Trump can fill the acting role with any official who has been confirmed by the Senate. He could ultimately decide to nominate Grenell permanently for the post, which would then trigger a Senate confirmation process.
Grenell has served as U.S. ambassador to Germany since April 2018, when he was confirmed by the Senate in a largely party-line vote. He was a longtime political operative who worked for a number of prominent Republicans and also served in the George W. Bush administration.
Grenell’s appointment to the new position will make him the first openly gay cabinet member.
There has not been a permanent director of national intelligence since August. In late July, Trump announced that his first intelligence chief, Dan Coats, with whom he periodically clashed, would resign from the position. Trump said he would nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to replace him.
But Ratcliffe, one of the president’s fiercest allies on Capitol Hill, withdrew from consideration days later amid scrutiny of his record and questions about whether he had exaggerated his résumé.
Maguire could return to his role as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center or leave the government entirely. Trump’s tweet Wednesday seemed to indicate Maguire would remain on in the administration.
Much of Maguire’s tenure has been overshadowed by his handling of the extraordinary whistleblower complaint about Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s leader that ultimately triggered his impeachment. Maguire at first blocked the whistleblower complaint from going to Congress on instructions from the Justice Department but eventually turned over the complaint to the intelligence committees.
Trump has not been very outspoken about his feelings toward Maguire but his tweet Wednesday signaled the president views him positively. Still, Grenell is seen as a closer ally of the president.
Grenell’s name was floated as a possible candidate for another top vacancy in the administration — White House national security adviser — but the position was given to Robert O’Brien in September.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, swiftly criticized Trump’s decision Wednesday, dismissing Grenell as someone “without any intelligence experience.”
“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,” Warner said.
A number of Republicans, meanwhile, cheered the choice.
“Ric has a proven track record of fighting for our country, and now, he will work every day to make sure Americans are safe,” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
President Trump made a great choice to name @RichardGrenell as America’s next Acting Director of National Intelligence. Ric has a proven track record of fighting for our country, and now, he will work every day to make sure Americans are safe. https://t.co/Gzajq5vQUt
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) February 20, 2020
Al Weaver contributed to this report, which was updated at 9:18 p.m.