Jefferson Morley | October 2, 2019
The Dangers of a Trump Loyalist as Director of National Intelligence
Last week’s appearance of Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI), highlighted the importance of an obscure position. Maguire deferred to the Trump Justice Department’s tortured argument for withholding a whistleblower’s complaint from Congress but insisted he was following the law, not covering up. Democrats were unconvinced.
Trump ousted the previous DNI, Dan Coats, because he did like Coats’s endorsement of intelligence community findings on Iran (that it was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal) and North Korea (that it was unlikely to fully denuclearize).
In Lawfare Austin Carson argues the DNI position can be used to thwart election security measures that Trump opposes.
It is hard to know how a new director more closely aligned with the White House might use this agenda-setting power. Easier to anticipate, though, is that existing initiatives that were not White House priorities—but that Coats chose to act on—could be in jeopardy. After all, agenda-stopping power is the flip side of agenda setting.
A case in point is election security. One of the last acts Coats took as DNI was to create a new position for “overseeing and coordinating election security,” called the Election Threats Executive. According to Coats, the individual would “coordinate and integrate all election security activities, initiatives, and programs.” He also ordered the various intelligence agencies to appoint their own senior officials to oversee foreign influence attempts in the run-up to the 2020 election.
It’s too early to know whether this particular initiative is meaningful or mere window dressing. What is clear is that Trump and key aides are no fan of such efforts