Blunt’s comments on Grenell were the first of any Republican on the Intelligence panel, which oversees the intelligence community. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has not commented on Grenell. Other committee members like Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) declined to comment.
If Trump announces a permanent nominee soon, Grenell’s role may not be as consequential and some Republicans may be waiting to see Trump’s next move.
House Republicans appeared to be more effusive in their support of Grenell.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised the pick, tweeting Wednesday that he “has a proven track record of fighting for our country, and now, he will work every day to make sure Americans are safe.” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), an Intelligence Committee member also seen as a potential intelligence chief, also applauded the decision to tap Grenell.
Blunt also appeared to deflect criticism that Grenell has never served in a U.S. intelligence agency by arguing that Maguire took the job with similar levels of expertise. Maguire was confirmed as director of the National Counterterrorism Center in December 2018 and made acting intelligence chief in August 2019 after Dan Coats left the administration.
“He had just barely taken the other job and he had no more specific intel background than Grenell does,” Blunt said.
By naming another acting director, Trump will bypass a potentially difficult Senate confirmation fight. Democrats have ripped the choice of Grenell, who is known as a hard-edged Trump official, and vulnerable GOP senators may not have been eager to vote on the nomination.
“If there was any doubt that Donald Trump values unquestioning obedience over the safety of the American people, this appointment settles the question,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an Intelligence Committee member.
“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,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Grenell emphasized on Twitter Thursday that he is in an acting role and said Trump will soon announce a nominee to be permanent director of national intelligence. Maguire was required by law to leave his acting post by March 12.
The White House is currently considering a few names to to be the permanent pick, and that person could be announced in the coming days.
A leading candidate is former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), according to an administration official.
Hoekstra, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote in 2017 to his current post as U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, where he has won praise from Trump.
“He was a congressman for many, many years. He was on the Intel committee. He’s just got a good background,” said the official. “Maybe he would invite more scrutiny this time, but one would think that people have looked over his credentials and any potential trouble spots before.”
In Berlin, officials were jubilant at the news of Grenell’s new job. Then they found out he’d still remain as ambassador.
“It’s depressing,” said one veteran German diplomat who said Grenell’s wrecking ball approach had brought the German-American relationship to a standstill. Behind the scenes, Grenell has had little difficulty wielding Washington’s influence, whether on issues such as Iran or on energy policy.
But the tough love has come at a price — no one even wants to be seen with him. Grenell’s history of attacking Germany and his reputation as an avowed Trump partisan have prompted many senior politicians to avoid public meetings with him over concern the association could damage their standing with constituents.
Others say Grenell simply won’t be able to do both jobs at once.
“I don’t think that’s realistic at all,” said John Koenig, who served as chargé d’affaires ad interim and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin from 2006 to 2009. “Being ambassador to Germany is a full-time job. It’s really very demanding. So I really can’t see how you can do that difficult job and do the equally and more demanding job of being acting DNI at the same time.”
Another former senior U.S. official called it “an impossible balance.”
“The role of the director of national intelligence is a 24-7-365 job that is totally consuming, and when you’re overseeing 16 other agencies and trying to coordinate all the information that comes across their wires on an every-day basis is a 24 hour operation with shifts and so forth and so on,” said the official, adding that it was “quite shocking” to learn someone was selected with “no experience whatsoever in intelligence.”
Grenell will be based in Washington while serving as acting DNI, per two people familiar with situation. He had been planning to leave Germany for several months with the hopes of entering the private sector or potentially even joining the Trump campaign. And with Maguire’s term expiring, the White House did not have someone ready for a full time appointment. But they were aware of Grenell’s desire to come home in the near future and valued his loyalty to the president.
Trump’s decision to name Grenell as acting head of DNI adds to the growing number of acting officials in his administration. Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said Thursday he “would like to have people in place that are Senate-confirmed” and that it would be “appropriate” for the president to nominate a permanent replacement.
Blunt said in the interview that “Congress has a role” to vet nominees but blamed Democrats for trying to delay Trump picks and creating “an environment where the president doesn’t appreciate that role in ways that he otherwise might.”
“I hope we can move beyond this in the future, but I understand why the president at this moment might not want to get back into a situation that’s drug out by Democrats like they drug so many of these nominations out the first two years,” Blunt said.
Daniel Lippman, Meridith McGraw, Burgess Everett, Andrew Desiderio, Natasha Bertrand and Matthew Karnitschnig contributed to this report.