President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening is expected to name Ambassador Richard Grenell as his new acting Director of National Intelligence, making Grenell the first openly gay cabinet member in a GOP administration in the history of the country.
Trump’s decision to name an effective loyalist to the position of acting Director of National Intelligence is likely to rankle powerful intelligence community officials, especially in the wake of the president’s acquittal by the U.S. Senate on the highly partisan Articles of Impeachment that the U.S. House brought against him. When Trump had previously put Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) up for the Director of National Intelligence position, deep state-aligned Democrats freaked out claiming Ratcliffe was not experienced enough for the job—despite the fact he’s served on the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and has been focused on intelligence community issues during his several years in Congress. Under scrutiny on these fronts, Ratcliffe eventually withdrew from the appointment before the U.S. Senate took up his confirmation process—leaving the position open until now, where Trump is subbing Grenell into the role in an acting capacity.
Serving as acting Director of National Intelligence will not require Grenell to be Senate-confirmed—if he was being appointed into the role permanently he would need Senate confirmation—but he can only serve for three months in the position. Many sources close to the Trump re-election campaign expect Grenell, an outspoken supporter of the president, to eventually make his way to the campaign trail in some capacity as Trump seeks re-election. But this posting as acting Director of National Intelligence will serve as an at least-three-month-long stop along the way in a key position for the president post-impeachment, as he seeks to rein in an unruly and restless deep state.
Given Trump’s political battles with the intelligence community, Grenell’s appointment this week is surely going to rile that same ire that Ratcliffe’s previous appointment did as deep state apologists are likely going to make the factually inaccurate case that Grenell lacks the experience to lead the intelligence community. One figure from the intelligence community, the so-called “whistleblower” whose complaint led to Trump’s impeachment and then acquittal, is perhaps the most egregious example of Trump’s war with the spooks, but the president has long been battling the entrenched and powerful spies that comprise that deep state on everything from major policy decisions to fabricated scandals hurting the administration. Leaks, too, have plagued Trump from the beginning, many of them coming from the intelligence community—not to mention the president’s ongoing battles for policy control with people from this world, as evidenced perhaps most sharply by some of the Democrats’ impeachment witnesses’ disagreements with the president on Ukraine policy. Grenell, in his new capacity, will be tasked with solving all of these problems and more—a daunting and bold mission for one of the president’s closest and most effective allies.
Grenell, one of Trump’s most trusted ambassadors, has served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany since the U.S. Senate confirmed him in April 2018. Prior to this posting, Grenell was the longest-ever serving spokesman for the U.S. at the United Nations for eight years—but it is during his time in Berlin where Grenell has set himself apart from others when it comes to his effectiveness as a diplomat.
Early in his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Grenell—at Trump’s direction—secured the deportation of 95-year-old Nazi prison guard Jakiw Palij.
“The president asked me to do this so I made a point to bring it up at every single meeting … they could tell that we were making it a priority,” Grenell told reporters at the time in a White House briefing.
Several previous administrations both Republican and Democrat failed to get Germany to accept Palij into their custody if the U.S. deported him. But Grenell succeeded when Trump tasked him with it.
“The previous approach had been trying to work through the legal argument, the reality is that I made a moral argument about that fact that the German government had a moral obligation because this individual served in the name of the former German government,” Grenell said at the time.
That first flashy win—securing the deportation of the Nazi—was hardly the only one Grenell has delivered for President Trump during his time in Germany. Grenell has emerged as Trump’s perhaps most effective ambassador, wracking up win after win for the United States on foreign and security policy in Europe.
Perhaps most significantly, thanks in large part to pressure from Grenell, Germany has finally agreed to increase its spending on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spending from its lowly 1 percent of German Gross Domestic Product (GDP) up to the 2 percent of GDP that NATO membership supposedly requires. While the Germans say they will hit this goal by 2031, it is under Trump’s administration—and Grenell’s pressure campaign on behalf of the president—that the Germans agreed to meet this goal.
“Germany will reach a NATO defense spending target by 2031, its defense minister said, missing a 2024 deadline agreed by the allies who are under heavy U.S. pressure to beef up their military budgets,” Reuters reported in November 2019. “Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Germany would spend 2% of its economic output on defense by 2031, belatedly reaching the goal set by NATO leaders at a 2014 summit, months after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.”
Earlier, in August 2019, Grenell publicly pressured Germany saying according to Stars and Stripes magazine that it was “actually offensive” that the U.S. kept troops in Germany while Germany did not pay up on its NATO obligations for member countries. Grenell’s success on Trump’s behalf on forcing Germany to pay up on NATO obligations comes after years of Trump criticizing NATO countries for dropping the ball on their commitments, a major theme of the president’s insurgent 2016 campaign and a talking point the president has zoned in on repeatedly during his presidency.
Grenell also successfully, at Trump’s direction, stopped the building of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany—which would transport natural gas about 750 miles from eastern to central Europe. President Trump in late 2019 leveled sanctions against the company building the pipeline, which forced the company to stop its construction—and Grenell was intricately involved in doing this and helping develop then enact and implement the policy visions that led to this success.
“There’s a lot of talk in Germany about being more pro-European and we think that, when it comes to Nord Stream 2, this particular decision on sanctions is an extremely pro-European position,” Grenell told the Associated Press when the company building Nord Stream 2—Allseas, a Swiss corporation—announced it was halting construction due to Trump’s sanctions.
When it comes to the national security side of things, Grenell was also instrumental in successfully implementing the U.S. policy vision in Germany as it relates to sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran. After initially facing resistance, Grenell succeeded in getting German companies to abide by the Trump administration’s U.S. sanctions against Iran in late 2018.
“We are very pleased that German businesses have decided to abide by the US sanctions,” Grenell told DPA. “German business leaders have told us unequivocally that they will stop doing business with Iran and will abide by the US sanctions. So we are very pleased that the actions of the German business community have been very clear.”
Grenell also succeeded in pressuring Germany to target Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, calling for the country to ban it—something the German Parliament later did at Grenell’s urging.
“We applaud the German Bundestag’s vote today calling for a ban on the entirety of Hezbollah,” Grenell said according to the Jerusalem Post when Germany’s Parliament voted to ban Hezbollah. “We stand ready to support the government’s implementation of a ban and will continue to assist in any efforts to deny the world’s most well-armed terror group operating space in Germany. Today’s vote is an acknowledgement of Hezbollah’s destructive international terrorism, and the action needed to stop its activities throughout Europe.”
Grenell has also been critical for the president when it comes to standing up against more established American adversaries like Communist China. Just a couple days ago, Grenell tweeted that President Trump called him from Air Force One to instruct him to “make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share Intelligence and information at the highest level.”
. @realDonaldTrump just called me from AF1 and instructed me to make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share Intelligence and information at the highest level.
That’s not to mention Grenell’s success in as a diplomat in another key role for the president, which he assumed last year as the special envoy for negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia. Talks between the two countries had been stalled for nearly a decade since 2011 until Grenell got things moving again at the president’s direction.
The Associated Press reported in late January that Grenell, after visits to both Serbia’s and Kosovo’s capitals, announced things were moving between the two countries.
“U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo said Saturday that an agreement to resume railway service between the two Balkan rivals is important for both nations,” the Associated Press reported. “Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany, said establishing train links became a priority after U.S. officials brokered another deal earlier this week to restore air traffic between the countries after 21 years. Grenell visited Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and Serbia’s capital of Belgrade this week. He said Friday at a press conference in Belgrade that details of an agreement to restore rail service would be discussed at a meeting in Berlin on Monday.”
The piece quoted Grenell, too, as saying that Trump’s vision is being implemented in the region.
“President Trump’s vision is now happening. The business community and the focus on job creation is leading the way,” Grenell said.
Grenell’s close working relationship with the president himself—as well as close personal friendships and relationships with key members of the first family—are likely to be critical in this upcoming promotion to acting Director of National Intelligence. What’s more, while he as of now will not face U.S. Senate confirmation for the job since he is taking over in an acting capacity, he was confirmed on a bipartisan basis by the U.S. Senate with 56 votes for the role of U.S. ambassador to Germany.