Sue Gordon’s meeting on election security was interrupted by outgoing spy chief Dan Coats to ask for letter of resignation, sources said. Details of the conversation between Gordon, an intelligence veteran of more than 30 years, and Coats remain unclear.
Gordon has submitted her letter of resignation to Vice President Mike Pence. The document itself was addressed to Trump. A highly unusual move prompted confusion among some West Wing officials. White House officials said they were not surprised by the fact that Gordon chose to resign, as it was clear that the President was never going to select her for the top job, or even the acting position. Under normal protocol, Gordon would have become acting director after Coats resigned. But the White House was reviewing whether it could legally choose an acting director outside the line of succession.
White House officials had been saying the President would prefer to have a political loyalist in the acting role until a permanent nominee is selected and say that the resignation was expected.
Trump in recent days had said that he liked Gordon personally. But officials said that Trump believed a theory some advisers pushed that she was too closely tied to individuals in the intelligence world, such as former CIA Director John Brennan and even Coats himself.
The circumstances surrounding Gordon’s resignation indicate she was forced out for political reasons. “I offer this letter as an act of respect & patriotism, not preference. You should have your team,” she wrote in a handwritten note to the President that was released by the White House.
Gordon’s departure, with only one week’s notice, and Trump’s longstanding hostility toward the intelligence community is likely to heighten concerns that the President may be trying to politicize agencies that are meant to stand apart from partisanship or politicking.
Trump had made clear his desire to bring to heel US intelligence agencies, which have produced evidence he disagrees with on Iran, North Korea, Russia’s interference in US elections and other issues. When discussing the replacement the President told reporters that intelligence community needed “somebody like that that’s strong and can really rein it in. As you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They’ve run amok.”
Leaders in both parties had expressed confidence in Gordon. Her departure is likely to unsettle lawmakers. They have acknowledged that they are unhappy with the way Gordon is having to retire and noted that her departure is a blow to the community due to her level of experience and track record of speaking the truth. Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “Sue Gordon’s retirement is a significant loss for our Intelligence Community.”
Trump said Joseph Maguire, the leader of the National Counterterrorism Centre, is his interim choice. The President tweeted, “I have no doubt he will do a great job!” The decision to name Maguire as acting DNI is not expected to prompt any sort of outrage from career intelligence professionals as he is well respected within the intelligence community.
“Maguire’s deep military background and work at NCTC means that he brings to the job a welcome understanding of IC capabilities and experience with current policy and IC leadership. However, his assignment to the acting position means that NCTC is deprived of his leadership at a time when the policy community is grappling with the issue of domestic terrorism,” a former senior intelligence official said.
Maguire has a long and distinguished career in the military, retiring from the US Navy in 2010. He commanded at every level, including the Naval Special Warfare Command. He has also served as a national security fellow at Harvard University.
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