Home/Daniel Larison/Trump Picks an Unqualified Yes-Man for DNI

Trump Picks an Unqualified Yes-Man for DNI

Trump's ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. Credit: photocosmos1/Shutterstock

Earlier tonight, the president named the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell, as the acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI):

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced that Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, will become acting director of national intelligence, a move that puts a staunch Trump ally in charge of the nation’s 17 spy agencies, which the president has only tepidly embraced.

Grenell has absolutely no relevant experience or expertise that would qualify him for this position, but of course Trump chose him because he is a reliable yes-man and one of the president’s most aggressive attack dogs. The purpose of naming Grenell to serve in this role is to make sure that the intelligence Trump hears will always be to his liking and will reinforce his own assumptions, and it is part of his ongoing hostility toward career professionals in the government. Grenell has no business serving in this position, as anyone can see:

One source close to Trump told CNN they were surprised by the pick, noting Grenell has zero intelligence-related experience.

And another Trump adviser described Grenell as “out of his league” for the acting DNI job, adding that some in the administration are “embarrassed by his behavior.” Previous holders of the DNI job have served in the intelligence community, the US Senate and senior levels of the military. Grenell, on the other hand, does not boast a resume with similar credentials despite his stint as the US ambassador to Germany.

“Everybody came into (the DNI job) with a relevant understanding, of which this guy has none,” said Bob Litt, former ODNI general counsel, who called the move “extremely dangerous.”

Besides being unqualified for the job, Grenell is also a fervent hawk, especially on Iran, and it is very likely that he will take advantage of being Director of National Intelligence to feed flawed and distorted intelligence analysis to a gullible president.

It is telling that Trump is not nominating him for the position because that would expose Grenell and Trump to the scrutiny of a Senate confirmation process. The president prefers having so many officials serving in an acting capacity because it makes it harder for Congress to hold the administration accountable, and in this case it lets him install one of his favorites in a confirmable position. The president wants a lackey as DNI, and with Grenell he has found an eager one:

But it does not appear that Trump is looking for someone with deep intelligence experience in the role — a former senior White House official described Trump’s decision as “filling the gaps” following the impeachment acquittal, sensing disloyalty in Maguire, and filling that position with somebody he sees as sufficiently loyal. Trump is “looking for a ‘political’ who will have his back,” the former official said.

Absurdly, Grenell will reportedly continue in his position as ambassador to Germany:

Mr. Grenell is expected to begin his new job on Thursday. He is also expected to keep his current ambassadorship simultaneous with the new role, one administration official said.

Grenell has been a terrible ambassador, and he has made U.S.-German relations much worse during his time there. The only good thing that might have come from promoting Grenell to the DNI position is that he would no longer be causing so much damage to the U.S.-German relationship, but it appears that this won’t happen, either.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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