Key US intelligence agency confronts a Trumpian overhaul

The latest developments at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are more than a little unsettling.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives diplomatic corps
Richard Grenell, in Meseberg, Germany on July 6, 2018.Axel Schmidt / Reuters file
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By Steve Benen

During the House's impeachment proceedings, lawmakers heard some striking testimony from a variety of witnesses, though something Fiona Hill said is suddenly relevant anew.

Hill, the former top Russia expert at the White House National Security Council, explained that she discovered that Donald Trump had ignored the NSC's Ukraine expert -- Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman -- choosing instead to listen to a gentleman by the name of Kash Patel.

It was a choice Hill found curious, since Patel had no expertise on Ukraine, though he was a top aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) -- a key White House ally -- and the alleged co-author of the hopelessly misguided "Nunes Memo." With this background in mind, Hill found it necessary to warn her staff to be "very careful" about communications with the Republican operative, and she removed Patel from internal distribution lists.

It's against this backdrop that Politico reported on Patel's new job.

Kash Patel, a former top National Security Council official who also played a key role as a Hill staffer in helping Republicans discredit the Russia probe, is now a senior adviser for new acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Patel started at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence yesterday.

At this point, let's pause to take stock. Donald Trump, a fierce critic of his own country's intelligence community for several years, recently ousted his acting director of national intelligence as part of an extended political tantrum. The president replaced his acting DNI with Ric Grenell, a notorious internet troll who has never served a day in the intelligence community in any capacity.

During Grenell's tenure, which is expected to be brief, he'll be aided by a Devin Nunes staffer with an unfortunate track record.

Of course, these are only two people, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has a senior leadership who should maintain a degree of professionalism and stability, right?

Wrong. Jason Klitenic, the general counsel for the ODNI, announced his departure this week. That news was soon followed by Trump's decision to replace Joseph Maguire as the acting director of national intelligence, and today, his acting deputy director, Andrew Hallman, is also stepping down.

As the New York Times reported, the departures pave the way for Ric Grenell -- the hilariously unqualified online pest -- "to put in place his own management team" at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

What could possibly go wrong?