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Gay Ambassador Rufus Gifford on Grenell's Promotion: It's 'Dangerous'

Gifford (left) and Grenell

The advancement of Richard Grenell, the gay Trump loyalist just elevated to head of U.S. intelligence, is nothing to celebrate.

We are about to get our first LGBTQ cabinet member -- at least temporarily, and maybe not officially, since it's only "acting." Well, it seems half of the Trump Cabinet is in an acting role, and they're all acting -- literally. So, how should we act about this celebratory moment for our community?

Let's keep the champagne on ice for now.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, an ardent Trump zealot with no intelligence proficiency, was named acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The post is a Cabinet-level position established after 9/11, under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. The DNI serves as head of the 17-member United States intelligence community, and produces the highly classified, and top-secret, President's Daily Brief. This is no job for a rookie, a newbie, a wannabe, or a draftee.

Which reminds me of the Tim Robbins movie The Hudsucker Proxy, where an ill-experienced business school graduate is given a job way over his head -- president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scheme. In Grenell's case, we have a neophyte novice ordained as an intelligence chief as part of another Trump scam.

This is a vitally important role, and his temporary appointment is already prompting legitimate questions about Grenell's background. He was a former spokesperson to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations and served for a time as foreign policy spokesperson for Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential campaign. He had previously served as a media strategist and public affairs consultant though Capitol Media Partners, which he founded.

I should be thrilled that a fellow PR flack is soaring to new heights. But I'm not. I am and have been a spokesperson, many times over. And I'm a well-seasoned media strategist too, and I know that I'm in no way qualified to work in the intelligence community.

And this is all especially alarming because of a story in The New York Times(and confirmed by the Washington Post) that intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was helping in Trump's 2020 re-election, and that Trump was furious that Rep. Adam Schiff was in the room. He apparently berated then-DNI Joseph Maguire that Democrats would use this information against the Trump campaign. Anyone care to speculate why Maguire was dismissed and Grenell received his sudden and unorthodox promotion?

This whole scenario is unsettling. Namely, that someone without any national security experience, and perhaps not even a suitable security clearance, is getting one of the most sensitive roles in American government, particularly at a time when Russia is waging another battle for Trump. And to another gay ambassador, former Ambassador to Denmark under President Obama, Rufus Gifford, the choice is "...weird and dangerous."

"It goes beyond the fact that he doesn't have the background in intelligence," explained Gifford. "It's much larger than that. This person has to have the credibility to serve as the head of national intelligence in order to command the respect and trust of the entire national security apparatus of the United States, as well as intelligence leaders and officials abroad. You need someone with a deep understanding of the minutiae and intricacies of a really complicated system, and someone who is a perceived leader in this space."

In other words, Grenell doesn't have the chops for the job, and most assuredly lacks the ability to gain the trust of the rank and file when he's been a prolific and fierce defender of Trump.

"The role of DNI should not be a political role, and Grenell is overtly political beginning with his communications jobs, and as a political appointee as an ambassador, all which makes him a prohibitive choice," explained Gifford. "I too was a political appointee as an ambassador and know that I would not have been a wise selection as the DNI, or even considered for such a position."

"There are many career ambassadors with stellar backgrounds and with high-level security clearances who are qualified for an intelligence job. Similarly, you have members and former members of Congress with direct knowledge about intelligence matters, like former Senator Dan Coates who served previously as DNI. Yes, they're political, but at least they have familiarity with intelligence matters."

As for the blatantly political nature of the Grenell choice, Gifford laments the fact that not only the diplomatic core, but the Justice Department, and the intelligence community have become more partisan during the last three years.

"This explicit partisanship makes it more difficult to gain respect within the ranks of the departments and with the American people and leaders and governments around the world. It's a terrible shame what's happening to democracy and our institutions, and Grenell's appointment is the latest example of a democracy going in the wrong direction."

So, should we, the LGBTQ community, feel pride or shame about Grenell's elevation, as temporary as it may be?

"This is tough one," Gifford contemplated. "I'm encouraged every time LGBTQ people are put in leadership positions, something that I have been fighting for most of my life. And, Grenell has been outspoken publicly and has taken advocacy steps for LGBTQ rights around the globe. Now, this doesn't mean that his promotion should be fundamentally positive for LGBTQ people."

"Grenell's selection goes beyond the realm. We can't look past the fact that he supports Trump and the administration's more exclusionary policies that are undermining our community and others, like Grenell's support for the advancement of far-right parties and causes in Europe. Our community has many other leaders whose causes we can champion."

Gifford is right. Our day in the sun will come. My prediction, if the Democrats can hold together and win in November, is that our first LGBTQ Cabinet member will be Veterans Affairs Secretary Pete Buttigieg. When that's announced, then we can pop that champagne.

In the meantime, lets pray that our intelligence community and government can survive under this latest duress.

JohnCasey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.