By Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Richard Grenell, U.S. President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Germany who was tapped to be acting director of national intelligence, said on Thursday that Trump would not nominate him permanently to be the top U.S. spy.
“The President will announce the nominee (not me) sometime soon,” Grenell tweeted a day after Trump announced his selection to lead the nation’s intelligence agencies in an acting capacity.
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that Georgia Republican Representative Doug Collins is among the candidates he is considering for the permanent role.
Collins, a Trump loyalist who strongly defended the president during his impeachment drama, has angered some in the party by seeking a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia that Republican leaders want to go to party incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Grenell would remain U.S. ambassador to Germany while serving as the second acting head of the 17-agency U.S. intelligence community since mid-2019.
The Republican president’s decision ignited criticism by Democratic lawmakers, who said Grenell lacked the experience for the job and was appointed only because of his loyalty to the president.
“Sadly, President Trump has once again put his political interests ahead of America’s national security interests by appointing an Acting Director of National Intelligence whose sole qualification is his absolute loyalty to the President,” U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Trump, she said, appointed Grenell in an acting capacity because he knows Grenell “cannot be confirmed even in a Republican-controlled Senate” to the full-time post.
A strong Trump supporter with a reputation for sometimes being abrasive, Grenell has been a lightning rod for controversy during his post in Germany due to his unorthodox style of diplomacy.
Soon after arriving in Berlin in 2018, he drew condemnation from across Germany’s political spectrum for an interview with the right-wing Breitbart website in which he said, “I absolutely want to empower” European conservatives who are “experiencing an awakening from the silent majority.”
He was referring to elections that catapulted conservative parties in Germany, Italy, Hungary and Austria.
Trump has had a strained relationship with the U.S. intelligence community since he took office three years ago. He has objected to intelligence assessments on major foreign policy issues, from North Korea to Saudi Arabia, that have clashed with his own analyses.
Most notably, he disregarded his own intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of promoting Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton. At a 2018 summit, he said he found Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian meddling “extremely strong and powerful.”
The last full-time director of national intelligence, former Republican Senator Dan Coats, resigned in July 2019, a year after his differences on the Russia election role with Trump became public.
Joseph Maguire, a career intelligence officer, has been serving as acting intelligence chief since Coat’s departure.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Clarence Fernandez)