Seven months after he first placed a “hold” on consideration of President Trump’s selection of William Evanina to be director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, continues to stake out his lonely position blocking a Senate vote on the nomination.
Grassley’s continued opposition to a vote, confirmed to Government Executive by his staff on Tuesday, is not based on any objections to Evanina, an FBI veteran who has led intelligence community’s efforts to thwart insider threats since 2014.
In a March 23 floor statement (his fourth on the topic), Grassley said, “The Judiciary Committee has experienced difficulty in obtaining relevant documents and briefings from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally assured me that the Senate Judiciary Committee would receive equal access to information provided to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence with regard to negotiations about pending subpoenas from that committee related to 2016 election controversies,” he said.
“I’m not questioning Mr. Evanina’s credentials,” Grassley said. “Director Coats and others have spoken highly of him. The fact of the matter is, if they really do believe in his credentials then they should produce the requested documents.”
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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the Counterintelligence and Security Center, declined to comment on the matter. But Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, in a March statement, said he was “deeply troubled” by Grassley’s accusation that the intelligence community was withholding information from lawmakers, saying his agencies continue to provide it “through congressional leadership and the intelligence oversight committees.”
Coats was enthusiastic when President Trump first nominated Evanina in February 2018, releasing a statement saying, “Bill already serves as director of NCSC, a position he has held since June 2014. The president’s intent to nominate him to stay in the position in an elevated capacity reflects great credit upon Bill and his team.”
But Grassley, who continues to demand documents related to why the FBI opened an investigation of Russian influence on the Trump presidential campaign, argues that his previous role as Judiciary Committee chairman gives him oversight responsibilities under the Constitution. “I think it’s worthy to note that the authorizing resolution that created the Senate Intel Committee made clear that other committees still have authority to review intelligence documents,” he said last month. “The lack of cooperation has forced my hand.”
The need for Senate confirmation stems from the fiscal 2016 Intelligence Authorization Act’s Section 401, which required Senate confirmation for the position created under DNI James Clapper in 2014.
Trump renominated Evanina, who also has served as National Counterintelligence Executive, in January 2019 after the new Congress convened and Evanina was cleared by the Senate Intelligence Committee in February.
As the only one to hold the job, Evanina drew praise from committee senators on Feb. 28 when they cleared him for the second time. “Director Evanina’s ability to effectively lead the NCSC is not in doubt,” said Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. “Over the years, he has proven time and again he has the real-world experience and professionalism our country needs to navigate increasingly complex threats to both the public and private sectors. Congress called attention to the importance of counterintelligence matters by making the director a Senate-confirmed position. It should confirm a full-time director without any further delay.”
Added Ranking Member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., “From brazen Russian espionage, to Chinese [intellectual property] theft, to insider threats, our country is facing an enormous number of thorny and complex counterintelligence challenges. We need a Senate-confirmed leader to head our nation's counterintelligence strategy. Bill Evanina should be confirmed without further delay.”