In his new tell-all book, former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper criticized Ric Grenell, who became Donald Trump's acting director of national intelligence (DNI) for a few months in 2020.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire told members of the House Intelligence Committee Russia was already trying to interfere with the 2020 election. Trump swiftly fired Maguire and replaced him with Grenell.
According to Esper, "there were a number of people in the administration who would willingly do Trump’s bidding, and probably even his more extreme dictates, and it deeply concerned me." Grenell, he explained, was one of them.
Trump would brag about Grenell like it was a grand strategy to force the hand of the Senate Republicans.
"The president often bragged about installing Grenell as the acting DNI. In an Oval Office meeting once, as a few of us sat across from him, Trump leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head, and with a huge smile on his face said that 'installing Ric as DNI was one of the best personnel moves I ever made,'" Esper recalled. "As his chair tilted forward again toward the Resolute desk, the president added that members of Congress 'are so concerned about what he [Grenell] will do, they’re now jumping at the chance to quickly get him out of the DNI office.' It’s crazy, he said. 'They used to have concerns about John Ratcliffe,' he said. 'Now they don’t,' as he leaned back in his chair again, entertaining the small group with his legerdemain."
By installing Grenell, Trump effectively manipulated Republicans into being fine with Ratcliffe, because it could be much worse.
"I should do this again in the future when I face pushback from a department," Esper wrote that Trump said. He noted he'd never forgotten the statement.
As an envoy, Grenell was always "quick to bash the Germans publicly," but behind closed doors, he was able to get Trump to listen. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo considered "unpredictable and difficult to control," wrote Esper. However, "Mike didn’t have to endure what many considered Grenell’s bad behavior in Germany too much longer, though." As the Los Angeles Times reported, Germans didn't think much of him either.
Behind closed doors, Grenell was pushing his plan to withdraw 10,000 troops from Germany. He wanted to get Germany's attention. Esper agreed it would certainly get their attention, but it would get Russia's attention too. Vladimir Putin has tried to bring down NATO for decades. According to LA Times writer Doyle McMangus, Russia is intimidated by NATO. He especially doesn't want Ukraine to be part of the anti-Soviet blockade. So, anything that would destabilize NATO would make Putin's day.
"I left concerned that Grenell was privately pitching this withdraw-ten-thousand-troops idea to Trump," wrote Esper. "My hunch turned out to be right. In fact, not long after the London summit, the president raised the issue with me."
"Mr. President, I have a review underway to look at our footprint around the globe, to include Europe, which will include Germany," Esper told Trump when he asked about withdrawing the soldiers. He added that the U.S. needed to “be aware of how the allies, and especially Moscow, might react to a unilateral drawdown from Germany."
He said that Trump went completely silent, either he accepted the answer or he was calculating how it might "look" for him to do something that would make Russia so happy.
At the same time, Esper said he was fighting Grenell on Germany, he said that Mark Meadows was criticizing him to Trump for "slow-walking your agenda."
Trump then tried to make the Germany troop withdraw about the chancellor not coming to the United States in the middle of the pandemic. The White House was desperately trying to downplay the seriousness of the virus and claim the U.S. was "open for business."
Trump had decided it was great because the 10,000 American soldiers could come home and make more money for local economies in the U.S. Esper had to explain what that benefit would be while alienating a NATO ally.
Esper's new book, A Secret Oath, is out on Tuesday and Raw Story has coverage here.
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