February 25, 2020 at 2:17 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Sen. Collins: Grenell ‘does not have’ experience to oversee intelligence
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Richard Grenell “does not have” the experience to oversee intelligence agencies. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

A top member of the Senate Intelligence Committee from President Trump’s own party said Monday Richard Grenell, the gay official Trump tapped to oversee intelligence agencies, lacks the right experience for the role, according to Politico.

“I care deeply about that position and believe the person needs experience in the intelligence community which regrettably ambassador Grenell does not have,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was quoted as saying.

Trump announced on Twitter last week that he has appointed Grenell, who has been serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany, as acting director of national intelligence. Grenell has been dubbed the highest-ranking openly gay presidential appointee and the first openly gay Cabinet member (although without Senate confirmation and obtaining the appointment on an ‘acting’ basis, that distinction is dubious).

By appointing Grenell, Trump had swapped former acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire with a Trump loyalist. Soon after the switch, news reports emerged Trump had fumed over intelligence officials briefing House lawmakers on Russia attempting to influence the 2020 race to re-elect him. Trump reportedly said he thought Democrats would use that against him.

Collins, who in 2004 helped write the law creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, reportedly said she wished Trump had retained Maguire for the position.

“I would have much preferred that the president nominate acting director Maguire for the post,” Collins reportedly said.

Although Trump has a penchant for making appointees on an “acting” basis even though they’re more or less permanent, Grenell’s appointment is limited under federal law and Trump said he expects to send soon to the Senate an official nominee to head DNI. Grenell said on Twitter the nominee is forthcoming and won’t be him.

Although Grenell made history with his appointment, Collins’s remarks didn’t seem to be directed at the appointee’s sexual orientation.

A Collins spokesperson strongly pushed back on any notion Collins’ objections to Grenell’s appointment were related to him being gay.

“Sen. Collins has a long record of leadership on LGBTQ issues, including co-authoring repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, ‘Don’t Tell’ and being the lead Republican sponsor of the Equality Act,” the spokesperson said. “To suggest that her concerns about Ambassador Grenell’s qualifications to serve as director of National Intelligence has anything to do with his sexual orientation is absolutely absurd.”

Collins isn’t the only senator on the Intelligence Committee who objects to Grenell. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) issued a lengthy statement at the time of the appointment decrying Trump’s pick for his lack of experience. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, hasn’t commented on Grenell, according to Politico.

Prior to Grenell’s confirmation as U.S. ambassador to Germany, which was drawn out over objections by senators to mean tweets he made in the past about the physical appearance of some women and comments downplaying Russia’s influence in the 2016 election, Grenell served as a foreign affairs spokesperson and as a political operative.

Under the George W. Bush administration, Grenell became the longest serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, working under four U.S. ambassadors. During the Obama years, Grenell founded Capitol Partners, an international consulting firm. (ProPublica reported Grenell declined to register as a foreign agent although he worked for a Moldovan oligarch who was later accused of corruption. A lawyer for Grenell said it wasn’t necessary for him to register.)

For a period of less than two weeks, Grenell served during the 2012 presidential campaign as a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but resigned amid pressure from social conservatives over his sexual orientation. Grenell never had the opportunity to speak publicly in the role.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on Collins’s assertion Grenell lacks the experience to oversee intelligence.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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