Susan M. Gordon, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, provides recommendations and comments during the 2nd National Space Council meeting at the John F. Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Processing Facility, Florida, Feb. 21, 2018. The council met to discuss and hear testimony about the importance of the U.S. space enterprise. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann) by CJCS Flickr photostream, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/Original
There is melodrama brewing at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Over the weekend, President Trump announced the resignation of DNI Dan Coats. The fact that it happened on a Sunday and happened by Twitter signaled that Trump was happy to see the guy go. Either he’d given him the word that he was out and wanted to prevent any laudatory political obituaries for Coats or any effort by the media to try to save Coats’ bacon (this is my gut) or Coats had submitted his letter of resignation and Trump was determined to prevent Coats from stage managing his own departure.
Trump’s decision to nominate John Ratcliffe, a congressman who is serving on the House Intelligence Committee and who is a confirmed skeptic of the Russia hoax, seemed inspired. Here was a man who seemed likely to work hand-in-glove with John Durham and William Barr to clean out the people who worked with Comey and Strzok and McCabe and Ohr and Brennan and Sipmson to try to bring down the president. That nomination failed and while we can blame a dishonest press, the lion’s share of the blame lies at the feet of the White House which did not adequately vet the candidate and which was unprepared for the scale of the attack on him (see John Ratcliffe’s Nomination To Be Director of National Intelligence Is Pulled By the White House, All the Right People Are Sweating After John Ratcliffe Is Nominated for DNI, NY Times Is Concerned John RatcliffeIs Too Partisan For DNI Role; Brit Hume Immediately Pounces and Fusion GPS Media Mouthpieces Take Aim At DNI Nominee John Ratcliffe).
Regardless, the absence of Coats created a problem. Who will be the successor as acting DNI until a new director is confirmed is a critical question. That acting DNI will be the person who decides the degree to which ODNI demands the CIA and NSA cooperate with the Durham investigation. The acting ODNI will decide whether the actions of rogue operatives gets the disinfectant it deserves of whether these particular lice are simply whitewashed into the cracks and crevices to reproduce and reemerge at some future date to do still more damage.
The law creating the ODNI is pretty specific. Unlike the nebulous language that let Mick Mulvaney take over as head of Elizabeth Warren’s wet dream, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the ODNI enabling legislation spells out that the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence “shall” succeed to the directorship in case of a vacancy. This prevents the Federal Vacancies Reform Act dodge–using anyone who has been confirmed by the Senate–from being used to replace him.
The curerent Principal Deputy is Sue Gordon. Gordon is a career intelligence officer who was nominated by President Trump in 2017 while she was serving as deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Before going there she had been at CIA for over 25 years.
Early on, Trump signaled that he probably was not gong to appoint Gordon to be the acting director.
….be leaving office on August 15th. I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country. The Acting Director will be named shortly.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2019
And the White House is apparently compiling a list of replacements. From the media reaction and the reaction of the leftwing commentariat, one is left with the indelible impression that appointing Gordon actin DNI would be a monumentally bad choice.
The President does not get to pick an Acting Director of National Intelligence. 50 USC 3026(a)(6) provides that the Principal Deputy Director (in this case, the wonderful Sue Gordon) automatically serves in that capacity. See here:https://t.co/Bj5H59e287 https://t.co/jDCC1f5t1w
— Bobby Chesney (@BobbyChesney) July 28, 2019
There is simply no non-nefarious reason for Trump to try to remove Sue Gordon as acting DNI. Gordon is experienced, apolitical, pragmatic, and enjoys broad support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) August 2, 2019
So, honest question: what does Trump fear from Sue Gordon as the acting DNI? She’s not going to be the full time DNI, she’s a placeholder until he finds a new nominee.
What’s his issue with her?
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) August 2, 2019
.@RepAdamSchiff: “Sue Gordon is superbly qualified to serve as Acting Director of National Intelligence – and indeed, the plain language of the law requires that she be elevated to that role once Dan Coats steps down." pic.twitter.com/itIU1qoZRl
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) August 2, 2019
And if I wanted to sandbag her, I would have tried to make this tweet happen:
Deputy DNI Sue Gordon is a proven patriot who understands foreign threats, respects the nonpartisan truth, and protects America 24/7. Daughter of a Navy Vice Admiral, mother of 2 Marine captains. Gordon is a great @realDonaldTrump appointee! @SenatorBurr @LindseyGrahamSC https://t.co/1jCryBHm1A
— Rod Rosenstein (@RodRosenstein) August 2, 2019
Apparently, Gordon is in bad odor with the White House:
Mr. Trump did not allow Ms. Gordon to personally deliver a recent intelligence briefing after she arrived at the White House, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence, Amanda J. Schoch, said Ms. Gordon was not blocked from attending any recent briefing, but she declined to comment about what happened inside the Oval Office.
Mr. Trump and House Republicans have made clear that they believe a broad reorganization of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is needed. Administration officials and House Republicans also have said they would like someone at the agency who will work well with Attorney General William P. Barr, who has ordered a review of the intelligence agencies’ support for the F.B.I. as the bureau sought to understand Moscow’s covert efforts to tilt the 2016 election, including any links to the Trump campaign.
As I said, I suspect it is questions about Gordon’s willingness to work with Barr that are in the forefront.
Gordon was a long time CIA officer and this is what she had to say at a recent conference:
“[CIA Director] Gina [Haspel] is one of my dearest friends and favorite colleagues. For those of you who don’t know her, she is so solid, true and not breathless. She will be an amazing leader of the CIA, particularly following [Secretary of State nominee] Mike Pompeo, whose aggressiveness and assertiveness actually established a really good beachhead for intelligence. [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats plays a different role. He is the voice of reason. Pompeo and Coats had a really good relationship. I think Pompeo and Haspel get along exceptionally well. She will secure the seriousness and purpose and go back to the CIA and lead it. I would be so disappointed in America if she doesn’t make it through the confirmation. This woman is the right person at the right time.”
My sensing is that Haspel is very unlikely to survive the Durham investigation. She was head of CIA’s London station during the election. All the major skulduggery happened on her watch. Stefan Halper’s courtship of Carter Page and his attempt to brand Flynn as a Russian asset. The Papadopoulos meetings. Joseph Mifsud worked in London. Christopher Steele works in London. And on and on. Either she knew what was going on or she was one of the most profoundly stupid heads of station in the history of that agency.
Putting her in the position of having to provide access to information that would take down her best friend is not a good idea.
I suspect the administration is going to comply with the ODNI legislation. But I also suspect that Gordon’s days as Principal Deputy are numbered. Before Dan Coats leaves it is most likely that Gordon will retire and President Trump will appoint someone else to that position and then elevate them to acting DNI.