The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump downplays possibility of a New York billionaire reviewing U.S. spy agencies

At a White House event, President Trump vowed to find the sources of leaked information regarding his administration. (Video: The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

President Trump is considering tapping New York financier Stephen A. Feinberg to lead a broad review of U.S. intelligence agencies but said Thursday that such a move might not be necessary once his team is fully in place.

Speaking at a news conference, Trump said that Feinberg, a longtime friend, had “offered his services,” then added: “It’s something we may take advantage of, but I don’t think we’ll need that at all.”

The consideration of Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, comes as the new president has cast aspersions on the work and integrity of the U.S. intelligence community. The prospect of bringing Feinberg on board was first reported by Reuters.

Trump says ‘I inherited a mess,’ blasts media and detractors at combative news conference

Earlier Thursday, administration officials said an arrangement with Feinberg had not been finalized, but they characterized him as someone Trump greatly respects and admires. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a possible move that has not been announced.

Trump has nominated former Republican senator Daniel Coats (Ind.) to be director of national intelligence, but Coats has not been confirmed. By statute, that person has oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies and is the president’s primary contact.

With the arrival of Coats and others of his appointees, "I hope we'll be able to straighten that out without using anybody else," Trump said, referring to the intelligence community. "I think that we are gonna be able to straighten it out very easily on its own."

He called Feinberg "a very talented man, very successful man."

The appointment of Feinberg would send shock waves through the intelligence community, a frequent target of Trump’s ire both as a candidate and as president.

Trump was slow to accept the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had meddled in last year’s election, and he lashed out at them Wednesday, saying the intelligence community “illegally” leaked information that preceded Michael Flynn's resignation as national security adviser.

Underscoring his desire to root out leaks from the intelligence community, Trump told reporters Thursday at a White House event, “We're going to find the leakers, and they're going to pay a big price.”

Feinberg, 56, has been a major donor to Republican candidates and has served on Trump’s economic advisory council. Earlier this month, his firm disclosed to investors that he was in discussions about a “senior role” in the Trump administration.

Feinberg founded Cerberus, named after the mythical, multi-headed dog who guards the gates of the underworld, in 1992. The fund manages $30 billion in assets, buying distressed companies and attempting to turn them around for a profit.

It is unclear how much experience Feinberg has in the intelligence world, but in 2010, Cerberus bought DynCorp International, a Falls Church-based government contractor that does work for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, for $1.5 billion. Some of the company’s work had drawn scrutiny from Capitol Hill and government watchdog groups, including contracts to train Afghan national police and Iraqi police.

The fund has deep connections to the Republican Party. Its chairman, John W. Snow, was treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, and former vice president Dan Quayle joined the firm in 1999.

On Wall Street, Feinberg is considered an enigma. He rarely gives interviews and once said of private equity executives, “We try to hide religiously.”

“If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person,” Feinberg told shareholders in 2007, according to Rolling Stone magazine. “We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.”

Feinberg is worth about $1.27 billion, according to Forbes. “In general, I think that all of us are way overpaid in this business. It is almost embarrassing,” Feinberg said at a conference in 2011.

Ashley Parker contributed to this report.