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New Intelligence Leadership


President Trump has announced a new acting director of national intelligence. His name is Joseph Maguire. The current director, Dan Coats, is on his way out. And as of yesterday, so is the deputy director there, Sue Gordon.

The president has had a tense relationship with leaders of the intelligence community, but he praised Maguire's long career, and those intelligence credentials could earn him support in Washington. NPR's Franco Ordoñez is in studio to talk about all this. Hi, Franco.


MARTIN: So Joseph Maguire, who is he?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Joseph Maguire is currently the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He's had over a three-decade career in the U.S. Navy before he retired in 2010. He's had commands in the Navy SEALs and the Naval Special Warfare Command. Trump touted his credentials, also - that also included a national security fellowship at Harvard University.

He comes from a family of service members. His father served in World War II. His brothers were in the Navy. Even his wife was awarded the Defense Department's distinguished Special Service Award for her support of wounded service members.

MARTIN: So let's just take a step back. This is all happening because the director of national intelligence of yore, Dan Coats, is on his way out, also his deputy, right? Sue Gordon just announced yesterday that she's stepping down. So that's the number one and the number two at DNI. Why? I mean, what's behind that shakeup?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. I mean, there's been so many musical chairs going on. Sue Gordon's departure - leaving, what it does is it makes it easier for the president to put Maguire in the position. You know, Sue Gordon and Dan Coats come from an intelligence community that the president has had challenges with. Sue Gordon was expected to move into that role or under federal statute, according to experts, should have been elevated into that role. But because of her leaving, that kind of opened a door to Trump to put someone else in.

Trump actually wanted to put a loyal supporter, Congressman John Ratcliffe, in that job. But those plans fell apart amid questions about his experience and concerns that he had inflated his resume. So yes, Trump has fired essentially - or let go essentially - the one and two officials at DNI. And putting an acting person in place means no confirmation hearing. That's kind of important because it means no public airing of some of those challenges Trump has had with intelligence agencies.

MARTIN: How is all this affecting the broader intelligence community, to have these leadership changes but also just the president's incessant attacks?

ORDOÑEZ: It's been very difficult for the intelligence community. There was a lot of concern about Ratcliffe possibly moving in because of the lack of experience he had. Now Maguire moving in there, you know, it's very recent. There's a lot we still don't know. Coats was one of the last remaining survivors of President Trump's original team, and they had their challenge. Coats was known for contradicting Trump on many things, such as North Korea, Syria and Russia threats.

Now Trump arguably pushed out Gordon, some will tell you, as a way to get control of the intelligence agencies. But for Maguire, running the NCTC as well as being a former admiral gives him some street credibility. So you can imagine that, you know, aside from being, you know, his background as opposed to Ratcliffe's will give him kind of a leg up.

MARTIN: But, I mean, is he seen as a partisan in Washington? I mean, are Democrats going to give him the green light? Is he someone that is expected to be in lockstep with this president?

ORDOÑEZ: Those are the kind of things that we will see. I can tell you that he was confirmed before for his current job at the NCTC and that members of Congress on both sides had approved him. Now we have not heard so much from each side currently because it was so recently. Gordon obviously had a lot of support from members of Congress. Maguire did receive it before. And, you know, Burr in the past has said that Maguire was an excellent choice for his current role. Now we'll see we'll see what happens next.

MARTIN: OK. Franco Ordoñez with the latest leadership changes to the office of the director of national intelligence, the president tapping Joseph Maguire for that job. Franco, thanks. We appreciate it.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.