President Donald Trump has named Richard Grenell acting director of national intelligence — a major post for someone who has no actual intelligence experience but who is a loyal customer at Trump hotels and his staunch political ally.
What’s more, The New York Times reports that Grenell’s appointment comes immediately after Trump replaced the previous acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, out of his anger at Maguire having allowed a briefing of House lawmakers on Russia’s continued efforts to interfere with the 2020 election.
The Times reports that administration sources say the change of personnel is just a coincidence:
Though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing may have played a role in the removal of Mr. Maguire, who had told people in recent days that he believed he would remain in the job, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a personal kinship with Mr. Maguire.
For now, anyway, Grenell claims that his appointment is only a temporary measure.
Grenell became one of many Fox News personalities who joined the Trump administration when he was confirmed as ambassador to Germany in 2018.
He is also an avowed fan of the far-right Breitbart news site. “It’s no joke that I’m a Breitbart fan, and I read it every day,” he told them in a 2018 interview. “They ‘got me’ early on, and what I mean by that is Breitbart sees the value of a consistent conservative, and you have a lot of choices in getting your message out. For me, it hasn’t always been perfectly positive coverage, and sometimes they report on things I don’t feel comfortable with, but that is the beauty of it. I love the courageousness of it. I hope I’m just as courageous.”
He had previously served as spokesperson for the U.S. delegation to the United Nations during the George W. Bush years — during which time his duties included voicing the administration’s support for the Iraq War. In 2012, he was forced to resign from his position as a foreign policy and national security spokesperson for the Mitt Romney campaign after key right-wing religious figures objected to Romney hiring a gay man.
Over the years, Grenell also gained a reputation for denigrating prominent women on both sides of the aisle online, including Hillary Clinton, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, and U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, the wife of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
As an example of his prolific online trolling, Grenell once took an unremarkably inclusive tweet from Hillary Clinton, recognizing the Easter holiday, and accused her of being “nervous about offending Muslims."
Members of the press have also attracted his personal condemnations over the years. And just two weeks ago, he was taking time from his schedule as ambassador to Germany to argue online with MSNBC’s Morning Joe program about Trump's record on Ukraine — a key issue in the impeachment saga — compared to the Obama administration.
And in 2015, he took a dim view of civil liberties and surveillance, when it came to stopping terrorism.
“If you're having an affair, no one cares about listening in to your phone calls. If you're having an affair with an ISIS attacker, then we do care,” he told Fox News. “But all of this hype that somehow we can't gather the proper intelligence simply because of, you know, someone's concern that they're being listened to, their civil liberties — look, we cannot be governed by fear, and in order to do that we have got to get the attackers when they're planning the attacks, So, gather all the intelligence that's needed.”
Recently, Grenell has found a political home in Trump’s Republican Party, advocating for the global far-right and praising Trump in general.
In June last year, Grenell gave an interview to Breitbart London and spoke of his eagerness to support right-wing movements in Europe. “There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on,” Grenell said. “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.”
The interview ignited controversy, and German political figures objected, saying Grenell overstepped the role of an ambassador -- with one politician accusing him of “interfering” in German politics. Grenell, in turn, posted a tweet that seemed to both deny and reaffirm what he had said: “The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous. I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority - those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump.”
In the same Breitbart interview, Grenell also spoke against George Soros, a favorite bogeyman of far-right conspiracy theorists and Trump’s inner circle. “Look, I think his policies are failed policies,” Grenell said of the billionaire philanthropist, adding: “I think that they’re very geared towards the elites, not for the silent majority.”
In November 2018, Grenell appeared with Fox’s anti-immigration host Tucker Carlson in an interview where the two directly criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policies on refugee admission.
“I think the United States is having a better conversation than the Germans, to be honest. This has largely been controlled by elites in Berlin,” Grenell said. “But normal everyday people are beginning to say, wait a minute, this policy is not working.”
Grenell’s record of pushing political talking points also extends further back to his regular appearances on Fox News. In 2015, when right-wing media first began ginning up controversy about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, Grenell told then-Fox anchor Megyn Kelly that Clinton would have rendered herself unable to do her job and thus endangered U.S. security.
“You know, one other point that's being missed here, Megyn, if her email was private, that means embassy personnel around the world had no idea what the email address was,” Grenell said. “They don't know how to link to her. They don't know how to get her. So if there's a crisis at an embassy that's going on, and you pull up the global address system, Hillary Clinton doesn't show up because she doesn't have a state.gov email address.”
And in July 2016, Grenell told Fox host Steve Doocy that Clinton and her top aides should all lose their security clearances.
“She should, Jake Sullivan should, Huma [Abedin] should, Cheryl Mills should, and a whole bunch of people at the State Department who are on those email chains. The State Department press corps has got to get active here and start pushing them because a whole bunch of people need to lose their security clearances, and there’s a line of people behind them that have lost their security clearances, but they weren’t on a presidential campaign.”
Ironically, key people in the Trump administration have used private email accounts to conduct official business, and the cybersecurity at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort is notoriously unsound.
Also during the 2016 campaign, Grenell publicly attacked Khizr Khan, the gold-star father who spoke at the Democratic convention against Trump’s proposed Muslim immigrant ban. Trump later attacked the Khan family on Twitter, and Grenell suggested that Khan was opportunistically exploiting his son’s death for his own immigration law practice.
“Mr. Khan entered the political debate,” Grenell said in a tweet. “His ongoing media campaign on immigration is all about his business,” he continued, linking to an article about Khan’s practice. Grenell later insisted that it is “not fair to let Mr. Khan conduct an ongoing media campaign without showing how he benefits.” He repeated his attack in another tweet: “As I said, ‘his ongoing media campaign’ is about immigration issues. And it’s his business!”