Mr. Grenell has nevertheless won the president’s favor in a familiar way: by loudly praising him and his agenda on Fox News programs and social media. Probably, he has convinced Mr. Trump he can be counted on to put the president’s personal and political interests above those of national security — something the two previous DNIs would not reliably do.
Daniel Coats, the first intelligence chief under Mr. Trump, infuriated the president by publicly reporting and defending the agencies’ overwhelming consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to help Mr. Trump, and was likely to do so again. Joseph Maguire, who served as acting director after Mr. Coats’s departure last summer, brokered a deal with the House Intelligence Committee to hand over a whistleblower’s report on Mr. Trump’s abuse of power in Ukraine. He was also blamed by the president for a briefing on 2020 election security given by an intelligence official to Congress last week.
Mr. Grenell’s sycophantic pandering to Mr. Trump suggests he will show no such independence. Before being elevated by the president to the Berlin ambassador’s post, his government experience amounted to working in the early 2000s as a U.S. spokesman at the United Nations, where he was known for nasty disputes with journalists. In Berlin, he quickly made himself unwelcome with public attacks on German government policies and outspoken support for right-wing nationalist movements around Europe. Though he can’t necessarily be blamed for Mr. Trump’s dismal standing among Germans — 13 percent said in a recent Pew Research Center poll that they had confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, the lowest figure in Europe — Mr. Grenell certainly contributed to it.
He will reportedly retain his post as ambassador even while serving as acting DNI, something that will probably disappoint the Germans. U.S. intelligence professionals already struggling to preserve the vital work of providing accurate information to government decision-makers will be further demoralized. Mr. Grenell tweeted Thursday that he would not be formally nominated for the DNI position; that is not surprising, since he barely obtained Senate confirmation for the Berlin post and would likely face still greater opposition to becoming the nation’s intelligence chief.
Mr. Grenell’s tweet said a permanent DNI would be nominated “sometime soon.” Mr. Trump nevertheless may well leave his minion in place for months. The president has developed a penchant for placing acting officials in high positions; by doing so, he dodges the need for Senate approval and reduces the clout and independence of department heads. Mr. Grenell could remain in command of the intelligence community through most of this year’s presidential campaign. Will he stand up against interference by Russia or other hostile powers? Not, we suspect, unless Mr. Trump tells him to do so.