President Trump’s appointment of U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) drew immediate criticism that the president was more interested in installing a loyalist than a candidate with deep experience in the intelligence community.
“It appears the President has selected an individual *without any intelligence experience* to serve as the leader of the nation’s intelligence community in an acting capacity,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tweeted. Grenell replaces Joseph Maguire as acting DNI, a role Maguire assumed after DNI Dan Coats departed in August.
“I am gravely concerned by the selection of Richard Grenell, an individual who not only lacks substantive IC experience but, by all accounts, rose to prominence in the Trump Administration because of his personal devotion to Donald Trump and penchant for trolling the President’s perceived enemies on Twitter as the Acting DNI at this critical time,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.
The president had to withdraw an earlier pick for DNI, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, last year amid bipartisan criticism that Ratcliffe didn’t have the experience to lead the intelligence community in an important role established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to facilitate communication and coordination among the U.S.’s various intelligence agencies. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., at the time called Ratcliffe “a blind loyalist to the president” and expressed concern over how intelligence would be affected if he were confirmed.
As ambassador Grenell has been a controversial figure and like Ratcliffe he has been pegged as a Trump loyalist. The president has long criticized the intelligence community, voicing doubts about their findings, particularly their assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
In tweeting Grenell’s appointment, Trump praised the ambassador for having “represented our Country exceedingly well.”
But Thompson said he was particularly worried about Grenell's appointment with the 2020 elections coming up this fall. Noting that the last two Senate-confirmed DNIs, James Clapper and Dan Coats, "were forthright about the risk of interference in U.S. elections" with Clapper bringing "Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election to light" and Coats warning of 2020 election interference by Russia, China, Iran and others," Thompson said, "With the Presidential election looming large, we need to have a DNI in place who will provide unvarnished intelligence and assessments to the President about the threats we face.”