Trump’s acting intel chief taps career officer as top deputy ahead of expected departure

Grenell announced Wednesday that Neil Wiley would become the principal executive at the Office of Director of National intelligence. It’s a deputy role that, unless is changed dramatically, means Wiley will spend much of his time briefing Trump and working on the President’s Daily Brief.

“(Wiley) has a strong reputation within the Intelligence Community and deep familiarity with the needs of senior policy makers and war fighters,” a former senior ODNI official says. “His background also means that the analytic community knows him well and will trust him to protect their tradecraft and fairly represent their judgements.”

Wiley is coming into his new position from ODNI’s National Intelligence Council where he served as chairman. He has decades of experience in military intelligence — both in and out of uniform – including as the director of analysis for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The move was also met with praise from the Senate’s leading Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, who last month accused Grenell of purging the intelligence community.

“Neil Wiley is a solid professional who is well-known to the committee,” Warner said. “He’s been a good partner in the past and I expect to work well with him going forward.”

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Warner strongly criticized Grenell’s lack of experience when he was named in February to replace the former acting director, Joseph Maguire. Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees have complained that Grenell has not consulted them in his re-shaping of ODNI.

That came to a head in April when the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, was fired along with ODNI’s counterterrorism chief Russ Travers.

“I’m guessing they realized quickly they need a professional in the C-suite,” said former CIA chief-of-staff Larry Pfeiffer, calling Wiley “pretty solid.”

Wiley fills the deputy position left by another career intelligence officer, the CIA’s Andrew Hallman, who was also pushed out when Grenell came in. It is not a position confirmed by the Senate, unlike the traditional No. 2 role of principal deputy director of National Intelligence, which has been empty since Sue Gordon resigned in August.

The move to tap Wiley for the role also raises questions about how many more changes atop ODNI’s leadership structure could be coming with the limited time Grenell still has.

“More changes to come,” Grenell tweeted on Sunday after it was reported that the ODNI’s COO was leaving her post. “Reforms should have been done before I arrived.”

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Grenell’s installation of Wiley comes as his time in the job is likely coming to an end. He’s expected to be replaced in the coming weeks by Ratcliffe, whose confirmation hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee was held last week. It could then fall to Ratcliffe and the President to push forward on a Senate-confirmed deputy.

Still, Grenell has indicated he intends to make the most of the time he has left in the job, making waves this week by declassifying a list of names of former Obama administration officials who allegedly requested the “unmasking” of Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn’s identity, a senior ODNI official confirmed to CNN Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday that he invited Grenell to testify on Capitol Hill about the declassification but the acting DNI has declined to do so, according to a source familiar with the situation and an ODNI official. Paul later acknowledged on Fox News that Grenell would not testify.

Sources have told CNN that Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to Trump, is still pushing for Stephen Feinberg, founder of a New York investment firm and a longtime friend of Trump, to move over to ODNI in some capacity.

Feinberg, a billionaire who leads the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, was a top economic adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign and has been one of the President’s friends for decades.

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While there are concerns that Feinberg may be unable to secure Senate confirmation it is possible that he is named for a role that does not require congressional approval, the sources said. However, Ratcliffe has also been reassured that he will be able to pick his own team if confirmed as DNI, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.

CNN reported in 2017 that the White House was considering appointing Feinberg to conduct a review of US intelligence agencies but that move has not yet occurred. Instead, Grenell has proceeded with a similar review during his short tenure as acting DNI which has raised concerns among Democrats that he intends to purge career officials for political reasons.

If Feinberg is appointed to an ODNI role, it remains unclear what that would mean for Wiley, according to two sources familiar with the situation. The White House and Feinberg did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

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