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Will acting top intelligence official speak truth to power?

The two top officials at the office of the director of national intelligence will soon leave their posts. The deputy director, Sue Gordon, resigned Thursday after nearly 30 years in the field. President Trump then named retired Adm. Joseph Maguire, formerly head of the National Counterterrorism Center, as the office’s acting director. Nick Schifrin talks to Amna Nawaz about this critical role.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The top two officials at the Office of Director of National Intelligence will leave service next week.

    Just last night, the deputy director, a near-30-year intel veteran named Sue Gordon, tendered her resignation. This follows the resignation of the director, Dan Coats, 10 days ago.

    The DNI is charged with coordinating the 17 agencies of the sprawling U.S. intelligence community, or I.C.

    Now, Mr. Trump has often harshly criticized the intel community since he took office. Gordon, who was widely respected, sent the president a curt resignation note, telling Mr. Trump that he should — quote — "have his team."

    The National Counterterrorism Center director, retired Admiral Joseph Maguire, was named by Mr. Trump last night as acting DNI.

    To walk us through all this and why it matters, our Nick Schifrin is here.

    Hi, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hey, Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a lot happening.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There is a lot happening, yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Joe Maguire, Joseph Maguire, what do we know about him?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Vice Admiral Joe Maguire spent 30 years as a Navy special warfare officer. Think Navy SEALs.

    Most recently, he was the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, that advises on policy and operations across the intelligence community.

    I have talked to a lot of people on the Hill, in the intelligence community, former senior intelligence who worked for him. The people who defend him call him a first-class human being, a great leader, a man with integrity and a warrior — quote — "If I ever needed someone killed, he would be the guy I called," according to one person I talked to.

    And that's the kind of endorsement that President Trump gave him today.

  • Donald Trump:

    Admiral Maguire is a very talented man. He's a great leader. As an admiral, was always a great leader. He is a man who is respected by everybody, and he's going to be there for a period of time.

    Who knows? Maybe he gets the job. But he'll be there for a period of time — maybe a longer period of time than we think. We'll see.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But even the friends of Maguire I talked to admit that he has some shortcomings.

    He's not an analyst, they say. He's not a strategic thinker. He's not going to solve the challenges that face the intelligence community. He is not necessarily going to be the best at explaining a complex problem.

    And that's where some of the criticism of him comes in. I talked to one senior — former senior official, a congressional aide, who said that Joe Maguire is going to follow the president's orders, rather than speak truth to power, rather than tell him the intelligence that he needs to hear, even if he doesn't want to hear it.

    And they just worry that he's not up to the task, that he's going to take orders like a loyal soldier, rather than giving the president the truth.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes, Nick, we have heard this criticism today, the president has been politicizing the intelligence community. We have heard that before.

    Where does that concern stem from?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    From the very beginning.

    Remember that President Trump went to the CIA and talked about how big his inauguration crowd was in the first few weeks of his presidency. The president defenders have called the intelligence community the deep state, and he has targeted even his own senior members of the intelligence community.

    Think about Dan Coats, the former director of intelligence, or soon to be former director of national intelligence, criticized the president's comments on North Korea and ISIS, or at least didn't agree with the president's comments.

    Just last week, the president called Coats a little confused and said that the intelligence community had — quote — "run amok."

    And so that's what the people who are worried about Maguire tell me, that when the president pushes back against Maguire, Maguire is going to say, OK, sir.

    These people want Maguire to say, no, sir, that's not correct.

    And they're worried that he's just not up to the task. His defenders say he's going to stick with his integrity, he will always be truthful, will always back up his analysts, and that will back up the community as a whole.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, a lot of this is just as much about the people who didn't get the job, right? Sue Gordon, we mentioned.

    But there was also a name floated by the president, John Ratcliffe, the Republican Texas congressman. What do we know about why they didn't get the job?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Well, Ratcliffe did not get the job because he misled on his resume, simply enough.

    And people were worried that he was going to be a yes-man. Remember, Ratcliffe criticized the Russia investigation. He questioned whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election. That is something that the entire intelligence community has been behind.

    And so there was big questions about him.

    That left Sue Gordon, who you mentioned in the introduction, the deputy director of national intelligence, the woman who would have gotten the job.

    And I have talked to a lot of people today, and they universally say that she was a consummate staff officer, beloved on both sides of the Hill, very capable and tough as nails.

    And here's what Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence community (sic), said about this: "Gordon brought decades of experience and encyclopedic knowledge of the agencies to bear. And her absence will leave a great void."

    But the president did not see it that way. The president saw her as part of the deep state. And we saw that in one of the tweets by his son Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted just last week, "If Adam Schiff wants her in there, the rumors about her being besties with former CIA Director John Brennan and the rest of the clown cadre must be 100 percent true."

    And, obviously, that distrust is why she did not get the job, even though she was so beloved and so backed by the intelligence community and Capitol Hill.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She didn't get the note. And then she wrote that note that we referenced — the job, rather. Then she wrote the note we got before.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right, exactly.

    Sue Gordon, make no mistake, was pushed out. And she said as much in her letter.

    She wrote last night in this letter: "I offer this letter as an act of respect and patriotism, not preference. You should have your team," and then finished: "Know that our people," meaning the intelligence community, "are your strength, and they will never fail you or the nation" — a clear statement that the people of the intelligence community will always do their job, whether or not the president wants to listen to them or not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Nick, this is a big job, the DNI, right, overseeing all of the civilian and military intelligence.

    Why does all of this turmoil matter right now?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. intelligence agency is sprawling. It has lots of agencies that are good at specific things, but the DNI was created to connect the dots.

    That's what didn't happen during 9/11. And that's what the DNI was created to do, to make sure that the intelligence agencies are working together, make sure their priorities in terms of their budgets are right, and, crucially, to make sure that any dissent is being heard.

    That's why the DNI is such an important role.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot of turmoil there.

    Nick Schifrin keeping track of it all, thanks, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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