Joseph Maguire on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 25, 2018. (MARCUS TAPPAN/AFP/Getty Images)
August 15, 2019
President Donald Trump should go with his gut and name an ally as the permanent director of national intelligence.
As of Aug. 15, the positions of director and principal deputy director of national intelligence and head of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) are all technically vacant.
Outgoing intelligence director Daniel Coats, a well-respected former U.S. senator from Indiana, resigned after repeatedly making plain he disagreed with the president’s view of the world. Meanwhile, Sue Gordon, Coats’s principal deputy director, likewise submitted her resignation.
Gordon did so after Donald Trump Jr. rightly pegged her as an ally of the allegedly law-breaking leaker House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and the famously communist-voting former Obama Central Intelligence Agency Director John O. Brennan. In Coats’s and Gordon’s wake, retired Vice Adm. Joseph Maguire, a decorated Navy SEAL, takes the reins as acting director, leaving open his former post as NCTC director.
Throughout this complex story, intelligence community sources have made clear that they long for compliant leadership, someone willing to toe the line of all their favorite narratives, especially that the Russians colluded more with Trump’s presidential campaign than that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
According to one expert, there is no time limit on acting directors. Another report suggests that it’s unclear whom Trump will pick to be his nominee to permanently take over as spy chief. The president has said, “I’m in no rush because we have a great acting [director].”
Maguire is, by all accounts, a good man with an honorable record of service to our nation.
That said, while Senate Intelligence committee ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) praised Maguire’s willingness to serve, he called on the president to nominate a permanent director “during this critical time for our country.”
To that extent at least, Warner is right. Then-President-elect Trump’s team was likewise right to explore depoliticizing and devolving intelligence activities at the beginning of his term. Moreover, the president was right to want to shake up the “inbred, back-biting” intelligence community by picking an ally.
Specifically, Trump has a personal interest in addressing the politicization of intelligence that resulted, inter alia, in U.S. spymasters’ interference in the 2016 presidential race, based on a claim of collusion with the Russians.
Based at least in part on their opposition to fixing that problem, media dead-pans, intel dead-enders, and Democrat dead-eyes directed deadly darts at Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), the outspoken and articulate Trump ally recently nominated to the intel director post, who quickly withdrew from consideration.
One explicit concern was that Ratcliffe believes the now-toweringly obvious truth that some sub-portion of U.S. intelligence worked to undermine now-President Trump.
Another concern, which is a howler: Ratcliffe might politicize America’s intelligence. For instance, as Warner noted archly, “Shading intelligence to fit political views ultimately threatens the safety and effectiveness of America’s dedicated intelligence professionals and makes our country less safe.”
Agreed. Which is why a new director must explore the degree to which partisan Obama spy chief James Clapper shaded the January 2017 intelligence community assessment to fit his (and President Barack Obama’s) political views, including by handpicking fierce Trump critic Peter Strzok to help write it.
Such a new director could not only consider changes in the structure of the intelligence community, he might help break the logjam in declassifying documents for Attorney General Robert Barr’s investigation of “Spygate,” according to Paul Sperry, the former Washington bureau chief for Investor’s Business Daily.
The president probably recognizes that partisans and perps will polemicize anyone he puts forward for the post willing to pursue depoliticization. That is why he should move forward with that agenda anyway, by naming an ally to be permanent director of national intelligence.
Even a few Republicans expressed concern not only about Ratcliffe’s politics, but his experience as well. Thus, the president should choose someone who not only shares his worldview, but has deep roots in intelligence, too.
Two candidates come to mind: current U.S. Ambassador to Holland Pete Hoekstra and former Trump National Security Council Chief of Staff Fred Fleitz.
Press reports suggest Hoekstra has emerged as a frontrunner for the slot. That’s good news; Hoekstra is a proven Trump loyalist who was part of the president’s 2016 campaign, and also oversaw America’s spies as House Intelligence Committee chairman when he served in Congress.
Hoekstra also has some bipartisan support, including Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), a former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who said of his former colleague, “I worked closely with Peter and, even though there were some disagreements on our side of the aisle, he ultimately made the decisions that were right for our country in his role as chairman.”
The Democratic House veteran continued, “I think he’s qualified. … Anyone who has served on the Gang of Eight understands the need for oversight of the intelligence agencies and the need to work closely with them on behalf of our country.”
Another name floated is Fleitz, who would likewise check all the president’s boxes: A loyalist who has defended Trump administration policies vociferously including on all-important cable news, and who also has a quarter-century in the U.S. intelligence community, including a long career at the CIA, as well as stints at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the House Intelligence Committee, and most recently at Trump’s National Security Council.
Ken Timmerman, who was co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, argues that in Fleitz, Trump “could get both someone who understands the horrible politicization within the intelligence community that has deeply discredited many of its key recommendations over the past two decades, and someone who also understands how that community operates from the inside.”
In particular, Trump needs someone like Hoekstra or Fleitz, who could remind the nation of a century of Russian interference, including Russia’s offer in 1968 to finance the campaign of Democrat Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon; Teddy Kennedy’s plea to Moscow to intervene in the 1984 elections against Ronald Reagan; and especially Hillary Clinton in 2016 paying a former foreign spy to dig up agitprop directly from Russian intelligence and then weaponize it inside the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement community.
This is the president’s chance to get it right on the intelligence community in this first term. Either Fleitz or Hoekstra would do just that.
Now, never-Trumpers of all parties and positions will attack and undermine anyone with whom they disagree politically, just as they did with Ratcliffe. That said, the intelligence community has no God-given right to choose its own boss.
Democrats who dislike Trump enough to oust him disqualify themselves from deciding whom Trump should choose to oversee the part of the government that arguably tried to do just that. Finally, elites skeptical of the president’s foreign policy at some point may want to notice that he won the election.
Mr. President, go with your gut. Name a well-qualified ally as your spy chief.
Christopher C. Hull, Ph.D., is a public affairs executive with extensive real-world expertise running successful local, state, federal, and international policy-shaping and coalition-building issue campaigns, as well as academic-level training in presidential and grassroots politics.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.