President-elect Donald Trump has another major position to fill on his national security team, with the announcement today by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that he has submitted a letter of resignation effective at noon on the day Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Trump had an uncomfortable relationship with the U.S. Intelligence Community, which Clapper oversees, during his presidential campaign. However, Clapper’s announcement has been widely expected since well before the presidential election.
Clapper is 75 years old, and came to the DNI role six years ago after a career that included service as a three-star U.S. Air Force general and as director, at separate times, of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He also served as Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Well before the election, he had explicitly signaled that he planned to step down at the end of the Obama administration.
The Office of the DNI serves as the chief liaison between the White House, including the president, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council, and the various federal civilian and military intelligence agencies. That includes the Central Intelligence Agency, whose director reports all operations to the DNI, as well as the National Security Agency, the intelligence arms of the various military services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Treasury Department and others.
Trump’s initial dealings with the U.S. Intelligence Community, which the DNI oversees, have been rocky at best. During the presidential campaign, the IC took the surprising step of publicly declaring that its constituent members were all in agreement that the hacking of the computer system at the Democratic National Committee and of the personal email accounts of senior figures in U.S. politics had been orchestrated by the Russian government.
Trump, even after he began receiving classified security briefings, publicly denied that there was any certainty about the origin of the attacks, memorably claiming that it could have been managed by a single overweight hacker lying in his bed.
Further, Trump has allied himself closely with retired Army three-star general Michael Flynn. The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn was effectively forced out of his job in 2014 amid criticism of his management style and his desire to overhaul the way the agency operated. It was reportedly Clapper who delivered the news that the White House wanted to see a change in leadership at the agency.
Flynn has since claimed that he was driven out because he refused to support the Obama administration’s insistence that the terror group Al Qaeda was being weakened by U.S. operations, and has insisted that the country is currently at greater risk from terror groups that claim ties to Islam than ever before.
The timing of Clapper’s announcement, delivered during a congressional hearing Thursday morning, was fortuitous in at least one respect. Also Thursday morning, rumors began to swirl that Flynn is in line for to be appointed National Security Adviser in the Trump White House -- a role that would have placed him in daily contact with the man who had fired him from his post as DIA Director.
During Thursday’s hearing, a lawmaker asked Clapper about a different rumor -- that Clapper would stay on past the end of the Obama administration.
“I submitted my letter of resignation last night, which felt pretty good,” Clapper replied. “I got 64 days left and I think I'd have a hard time with my wife anything past that.”