WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s administration insisted Thursday that new US intelligence chief Richard Grenell would serve without a partisan agenda as Democrats voiced outrage at placing the voluble Trump defender in the key post.
Grenell, the ambassador to Germany where his blunt criticism of the government irritated the close ally, was named late Wednesday by Trump as acting director of national intelligence.
He will supervise 17 agencies including the CIA, taking charge after Trump’s contentious relationship with intelligence professionals over Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“He is committed to a non-political, non-partisan approach as head of the Intelligence Community, on which our safety and security depend,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Thursday.
“The president has every confidence that Ambassador Grenell will perform his new duties with distinction,” she said.
The longtime media commentator and former US spokesman at the United Nations will be the first openly gay US cabinet official, despite what activists say is a spotty record by Trump on LGBTQ rights.
Avoiding a potentially contentious confirmation fight, Trump named him acting director, meaning he can serve for 210 days without approval from the Senate.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, voiced alarm that Trump selected an acting director for the second time in a row, this time one without direct intelligence experience.
Noting rising questions about the independence of the Justice Department, Warner said the United States “needs a Senate-confirmed intelligence director who will provide the best intelligence and analysis, regardless of whether or not it’s expedient for the president.”
Senator Ron Wyden, another Democrat on the committee, accused Trump of prioritizing “unquestioning obedience over the safety of the American people.”
“Mr. Grenell’s endorsement of the European far right, his gratuitous conflicts with our German allies and his lack of intelligence experience disqualify him on all counts,” he said in a statement.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey said he expected Grenell “will remain a political yes-man for Trump as he is in Berlin.”
Grenell has cheered on the rise of right-wing populists in Europe, including hailing Austria’s ultra-conservative chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, as a “rock star.”
He has also been unusually outspoken for an ambassador in criticizing the country where he serves, including warning German companies over Twitter to comply with Trump’s orders not to do business in Iran.
In a particularly delicate stance for his new job, Grenell has previously cast doubt on the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
The intelligence community concluded that Russia intervened, including by manipulating social media, with the goal of strengthening Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Ned Price, a former aide to president Barack Obama, said that Trump “has dropped the charade that he has any use for intelligence.”
“He has just named the most political — and abrasive — US ambassador to what it supposed to be the least political — and undoubtedly delicate — role,” he wrote on Twitter.