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Trump may bypass protocol to name acting intelligence chief while Ratcliffe awaits confirmation

Posted at 6:32 PM, Jul 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-29 20:32:39-04

President Donald Trump may go outside the normal protocol to name an acting director of national intelligence to serve until his choice, Rep. John Ratcliffe, is confirmed, three sources tell CNN.

A senior administration official and a source familiar with the issue added that there’s an active search right now for candidates to assume the acting role and it’s unlikely that Deputy Director Sue Gordon will be picked. The search is underway as Ratcliffe goes through the confirmation process.

Should Trump skip over Gordon, it could further the criticism that he is politicizing the intelligence community at the expense of long-serving career professionals.

Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who’s the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN he would be “shocked” if Gordon weren’t selected as acting director.

“Well, the White house certainly has that ability, but she’s more than capable of handling that job,” he said. “I would be shocked, because that’s what principal deputies are in place for.”

The administration is reviewing whether it can legally choose an acting director outside the line of succession, one of the sources said. However, the sources caution no final decision has been made.

Ultimately Trump has discretion. CNN legal analyst and law professor Stephen Vladeck says there are two competing theories about the relevant statutes. Under one theory, the President has no discretion as long as a there is a confirmed principal deputy. Under a broader statute, Trump has a wider pool of potential acting directors.

Two sources have told CNN that Gordon is viewed by some in the administration as someone who is not going to be the type of political loyalist Trump wants in that role.

Gordon is a career official, though Trump does like her, one of those sources said.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that he would announce the name of the acting director soon.

When asked about Gordon’s future and whether she’ll be acting director, Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesperson Maura Beard says they are in wait and see mode.

The decision is the President’s, Beard says, despite the debate over whether it’s automatically Gordon. Gordon is still very much in her role as principal deputy, Beard says.

The White House has not responded to the CNN’s request for comment.