Acting intelligence community (IC) chief Richard Grenell on Tuesday refuted Democrats’ claims that he is reorganizing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) without congressional authorization.
Acting DNI Grenell revealed that Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has refused to discuss the reforms he has undertaken to make ODNI more effective.
Echoing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), Warner and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) accused Grenell of overhauling ODNI without consulting the relevant congressional oversight panels. ODNI is in charge of the U.S. intelligence community, known as IC.
Warner and Heinrich criticized Grenell on Tuesday during the Senate intelligence panel’s confirmation hearing of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the next DNI.
“I was hoping to brief Senator [Warner] on the reforms I am implementing, but he [canceled] our scheduled phone call and hasn’t been willing to reschedule the call in months. We’ve never spoken,” Grenell wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
I was hoping to brief Senator @MarkWarner on the reforms I am implementing but he cancelled our scheduled phone call and hasn’t been willing to reschedule the call in months. We’ve never spoken. https://t.co/UHgK1zUPmS
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) May 5, 2020
The Acting DNI has argued that he is streamlining the IC to make it more effective, a move praised by some former members of the intelligence community, namely former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station chief Daniel Hoffman.
Referring to Grenell during the confirmation hearing, Warner said:
As acting DNI, this individual promptly instituted a hiring freeze and reorganization whose purpose has not been communicated through the intelligence oversight committees. He also quickly fired senior leaders with decades of experience in the IC. Alarmingly we have begun to hear reports that intelligence professionals have been inappropriately pressured to limit the information they share with Congress.
“Congress has not authorized organizational changes at ODNI. We have not appropriated funds for that purpose, but Acting Director Grenell has been reorganizing ODNI,” Sen. Heinrich added.
The New Mexico Democrat went on to ask Ratcliffe if he will seek authorization from Congress if he decides to reorganize the intelligence community.
“I’m not so presumptuous as to know that I’m going to be confirmed, so I haven’t considered or talked about any sort of organizational changes,” Ratcliffe said in response, adding:
I expect to have unfettered discretion to make all personnel decisions if confirmed as DNI, and I’ll make them in the best interest of the IC to make the IC better. And I will certainly, as with everything, work with this committee to keep it fully and currently informed.
Warner complained that currently, there is no single Senate-confirmed leader at ODNI.
Like other Democrats, namely Schiff, Warner accused Grenell of politicizing ODNI with the staffing changes and his overall reorganization of the intelligence community.
Sen. Warner described former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Grenell as “an acting DNI with no experience in intelligence but with plenty of political loyalty to the President.”
The Democrat lawmaker also accused Ratcliffe of not having the necessary qualifications to serve as DNI:
I have to say that while I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt during this hearing I don’t see what has changed since last summer when the President decided not to proceed with your nomination over concerns about your inexperience, partisanship and past statements that seem to embellish your record.
We must expect and demand professionalism, a nonpartisan commitment to the truth, and a rock-solid dedication to defending those who defend us every day, the professional women and men of our nation’s intelligence committees.
Ratcliffe was a fierce defender of President Trump during the Democrats’ failed attempt to remove him from office as the novel coronavirus pandemic spread across the world.
Democrats in the House succeeded in voting to impeach the commander-in-chief, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him.
Among the personnel changes during Grenell’s tenure is the termination of Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) Michael Atkinson on April 3, a move heavily criticized by Democrats.
The ICIG was the official responsible for sharing the whistleblower complaint with Congress that triggered the Democrats’ failed impeachment probe.
Ratcliffe appeared set to sail through the Republican-led Senate confirmation hearings.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and his fellow Republicans on the panel indicated they would back the Texas congressman’s nomination and quickly put it to a vote in the full Senate.
Meanwhile, Democrats seemed vehemently opposed to Ratcliffe serving as DNI, arguing that he does not meet a legal requirement that the DNI “shall have extensive national security expertise.”
Ratcliffe vowed to be objective, at one point denying any knowledge of an anti-Trump “deep state” conspiracy to undermine Trump within the intelligence community.
Asked whether he believed there was a “deep state” within the IC, the potential DNI said, “I don’t know what that means. … I don’t know what that is.”
After the hearing, Burr reportedly said he would hold a committee vote next week to advance Ratcliffe and work with Senate leaders to schedule a final confirmation vote soon after that.
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