On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that President Trump was expected to name the current ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as his next acting director of national intelligence. Shortly after, Trump tweeted out a confirmation of the report: Grenell will take over from current acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who is required to relinquish the role on March 11, according to federal law. Because Grenell has already been confirmed by the Senate for his current position in Germany, Trump does not require lawmakers’ approval for his new DNI — thus adding to his already long list of cabinet members serving in active capacities in order to avoid Senate accountability.
With Grenell as the newly installed DNI, the president has promoted a loyalist with no intelligence experience to speak of to serve as the head of the intelligence community, which Trump has long derided and discredited for his own political benefit. (Grenell will also reportedly be the first openly gay cabinet member in U.S. history.) As CNN national security analyst Susan Hennessey and Virginia senator Mark Warner suggest, this is a major concern for the shape of the administration moving forward:
Trump has attempted to install an ally to the director of national intelligence position before: In August, the president nominated Texas representative John Ratcliffe for the job, but dropped his ally after bipartisan pushback over Ratcliffe’s absence of intelligence experience — a concern that grew after reports stated that the congressman boosted his résumé to appear more qualified for the job. But after Trump’s acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, critics feel that he was emboldened by its result; that has manifested in the firing of officials who testified against him and his claim that he has a “legal right” to intervene in Department of Justice cases. Grenell’s expected nomination appears to be in line with Trump’s new attitude: According to his public record, Grenell has less intelligence experience than Ratcliffe, who at least served on the House Committee on Homeland Security.
But in light of Trump’s usual priorities — loyalty and television — Grenell has experience in spades. A lifelong conservative communications expert who served as the communication director for multiple U.N. ambassadors under the second President Bush, Grenell has since appeared extensively on Fox News. In his position representing the U.S. government in Germany, he also made a call to “empower other conservatives” in Europe, defying international protocol for ambassadors to remain neutral. He is also a friend of the family: According to a recent report from The Atlantic, Grenell is in a group chat with Donald Trump Jr.
More importantly, Grenell has reportedly learned how to navigate around normal State department protocol to speak directly with the president over the phone. That could explain why senior intelligence officials were “blindsided” by his appointment, according to a former official who spoke with CNN.