Row breaks out over US ambassador to Germany supervising CIA

US President Donald Trump's administration insisted Thursday that new US intelligence chief and Germany ambassador Richard Grenell would serve without a partisan agenda as Democrats voiced outrage at placing the voluble Trump defender in the key post.

Row breaks out over US ambassador to Germany supervising CIA
Grenell on the job in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Grenell, the ambassador to Germany where his blunt approach irritated the close ally, was named late Wednesday by Trump as acting director of national intelligence.

“Happy to jump in and serve our president,” he tweeted on Friday.

The 53-year-old former political advisor, who has no directly relevant background or top-level management experience, will supervise 17 agencies including the CIA.

He has been unusually outspoken for an ambassador in criticizing the country where he serves, including warning German companies over Twitter to comply with Trump's orders not to do business in Iran.

His outspoken behaviour – including insisting on what Germany should do with it defence spending and telecom equipment – has led some German politicians to demand his expulsion.

READ ALSO: Trump names Germany advisor Grenell as top intelligence advisor

He takes charge after a period of tension between Trump and intelligence professionals over Russian interference in the 2016 election, which the president has played down.

“He is committed to a non-political, non-partisan approach as head of the Intelligence Community, on which our safety and security depend,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Thursday.

“The president has every confidence that Ambassador Grenell will perform his new duties with distinction,” she added.

The longtime media commentator and former US spokesman at the United Nations will be the first openly gay US cabinet official, despite what activists say is a spotty record by Trump on LGBTQ rights.

READ ALSO: What you should know about Trump's new ambassador to Germany

Avoiding a potentially contentious confirmation fight, Trump named him acting director, meaning he can serve for 210 days without approval from the Senate.

Grenell on Twitter said he would not serve permanently and that Trump would “soon” select someone else as the nominee.

But he is the second acting director since the resignation in August of Dan Coats, who had publicly contradicted Trump on key issues including by standing firm in US intelligence's conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016 to back the billionaire over Hillary Clinton.

Grenell has previously cast doubt on the extent of Russia's efforts, saying that Moscow's activities were nothing new.

Trump last year backed down on plans to nominate another stalwart ally, Representative John Ratcliffe, who was also criticized by Democrats as overly partisan.

Joseph Maguire, the outgoing director, cannot stay beyond mid-March without Senate confirmation.

Abrasive critic

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, accused Trump of knowing that Grenell would not win Senate confirmation and showing “contempt for our Constitution's system of checks and balances.”

“Sadly, President Trump has once again put his political interests ahead of America's national security interests by appointing an acting director of national intelligence whose sole qualification is his absolute loyalty to the president,” she said in a statement.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, accused Trump of prioritizing “unquestioning obedience over the safety of the American people.”

“Mr Grenell's endorsement of the European far right, his gratuitous conflicts with our German allies and his lack of intelligence experience disqualify him on all counts,” he said in a statement.

READ ALSO: US ambassador 'doesn't want to be seen as as supporter of right': sources

Democratic Senator Ed Markey said he expected Grenell “will remain a political yes-man for Trump as he is in Berlin.”

Grenell has cheered on the rise of right-wing populists in Europe, including hailing Austria's ultra-conservative chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, as a “rock star.”

READ ALSO: 'Total diplomatic failure': US Ambassador sparks anger in Germany

He previously drew controversy as a spokesman for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, with reporters complaining that he would relentlessly attack them over Twitter.

Ned Price, a former aide to president Barack Obama, said Trump “has dropped the charade that he has any use for intelligence.”

“He has just named the most political — and abrasive — US ambassador to what it supposed to be the least political — and undoubtedly delicate — role,” he wrote on Twitter.

Senior congressional Republicans were muted in their response to the nomination. But Representative Matt Gaetz, a conservative who backs gay rights, praised the historical importance of the appointment.

“Fifty years ago a gay man or woman couldn't work in the intelligence community,” he said.

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Deutsche Bank set ‘to cut ties with Trump’

Deutsche Bank will cease its longstanding relationship with outgoing US president Donald Trump, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Deutsche Bank set 'to cut ties with Trump'
Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

Deutsche Bank was Trump's primary lender for two decades, and he owes the institution more than $300 million, according to the newspaper, which cited an unnamed source as saying the German lender “has decided not to do business with Mr. Trump or his company in the future.”

Deutsche Bank declined to comment to AFP.

The move comes on the heels of last week's violent attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters at the president's incitement, and follows steps taken by other companies to cut ties with Trump and his businesses.

READ ALSO: Trump under investigation for Deutsche Bank ties

Christiana Riley, head of Deutsche Bank's US division, called the violent
siege on the Capital “a dark day for America and our democracy” in a post on LinkedIn last week.

“We are proud of our Constitution and stand by those who seek to uphold it to ensure that the will of the people is upheld and a peaceful transition of power takes place,” Riley said.

“It is my hope that these shocking events will result in a reinvigoration
of the principles our nation was built upon.”

Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank has sparked numerous probes in the United States, including in New York, where the Manhattan District Attorney is investigating whether Trump committed financial crimes as he sought loans.

READ ALSO: 'Worlds between us': What Trump's German family's town thinks of him today