Political News

Trump's acting intel chief flouts top Democrat's demand for answers about watchdog firing

Posted April 21, 2020 1:24 p.m. EDT

— Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell sent a letter to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff on Monday flouting the House Intelligence Committee chairman's demand for information about the actions Grenell has taken since becoming the top US intelligence official last month.

Grenell's letter instead included a litany of charges against Schiff, accusing him of trying change his committee's mandate to be in charge of intelligence community "administration," of attacking career intelligence officials and of not supporting the women now leading the National Counterterrorism Center after a longtime career official was fired.

"Going forward, I encourage you to think of the relationship between your committee and the IC as that between the legislative and executive branches of government, rather than that between a hedge fund and a distressed asset, as your letter suggests," Grenell wrote, according to a copy obtained by CNN.

The letter comes after Schiff wrote to Grenell earlier this month expressing concerns over recent personnel changes at the agency that have been carried out amid the coronavirus outbreak, including the firing of the Intelligence Community Inspector General who informed Congress about the whistleblower complaint that led to President Donald Trump's impeachment.

Specifically, Schiff questioned whether the moves were "inappropriately influenced by political considerations."

CNN previously reported that Grenell had initiated a temporary hiring freeze at the agency he was recently appointed to oversee, according to spokesperson Amanda Schoch, who emphasized that the move was "not an effort to purge" officials for political reasons. But the departures of several senior intelligence officials have raised concerns from Democrats who belief Grenell was named acting intelligence chief to carry out a politically motivated campaign against those viewed as anti-Trump.

"President Trump did not nominate you for confirmation as permanent DNI, and it would be inappropriate for you to pursue any additional leadership, organizational, or staffing changes to ODNI during your temporary tenure. Any effort, moreover, to remove or otherwise initiate personnel action against apolitical career officers based on their perceived loyalty to the President would contravene civil service protections," Schiff wrote on April 7.

That letter also included a request that Grenell provide a "detailed written explanation" for changes at ODNI by April 16. In his response, Grenell tells Schiff his committee does not have "oversight with a mandate for IC administration."

Grenell's letter was sent to the committee after ODNI had indicated to the panel that it needed more time to respond to the oversight requests, according to a committee source.

"The Committee is in discussions with ODNI about their response to the Committee's oversight requests, since ODNI has indicated that they require additional time to respond," a committee spokesperson said on Monday. "The Committee continues to have serious concerns, as do our Senate colleagues, with the decision to fire the IC IG, with staffing changes at NCTC, and with the pursuit of structural and personnel changes at the ODNI without the approval of Congress."

On Tuesday, Schiff responded to Grenell's letter in a statement insisting again that the acting intelligence chief turn over the materials he requested. "The simple fact he was not willing to respond to a reasonable request from his agency's oversight committee raises new basis for our concerns, particularly given this Administration's history of covering up blatant misconduct," Schiff said in a statement. "The Office of the Director of National Intelligence owes us, and the Senate as well, answers to these questions."

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