Richard Allen Grenell (born September 18, 1966) is an American diplomat, political advisor, and media consultant who served as Acting Director of National Intelligence in Former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in 2020. A member of the Republican Party, Grenell served as the United States Ambassador to Germany from 2018 to 2020 and as the Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations from 2019 to 2021.
|Special Presidential Envoy for |
Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations
October 4, 2019 – January 20, 2021
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|United States Ambassador to Germany|
May 8, 2018 – June 1, 2020
|Preceded by||John B. Emerson|
|Succeeded by||Robin Quinville (acting)|
|Director of National Intelligence|
February 20, 2020 – May 26, 2020
|Deputy||Andrew P. Hallman (acting)|
Neil Wiley (acting)
|Preceded by||Joseph Maguire (acting)|
|Succeeded by||John Ratcliffe|
|Born||September 18, 1966|
Jenison, Michigan, U.S.
|Domestic partner||Matt Lashey|
|Education||Evangel University (BA)|
Harvard University (MPA)
Grenell was a U.S. State Department spokesperson to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration. Following his State Department tenure, he formed Capitol Media Partners, a political consultancy; he also was a Fox News contributor. Grenell was a foreign policy spokesperson for Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential campaign.
In September 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Grenell as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. On April 26, 2018, he was confirmed by the United States Senate by a vote of 56 to 42. Grenell presented his credentials to the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on May 8, 2018.
Grenell was named by President Trump in 2020 as Acting Director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration, making him the first openly gay person to serve at a Cabinet level, albeit in an acting capacity, in the United States. He was Acting DNI from February to May 2020.
Grenell has expressed interest in running in the 2021 California gubernatorial recall election.
Early life and education
Grenell graduated with a bachelor's degree in Government and Public Administration from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. He received a master's degree in Public Administration from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Minister-Counselor, State Department (2001–2008)
In 2001, Grenell was appointed by President George W. Bush as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy for the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York (formally, his title was Minister Counselor). Serving in that role until 2008, Grenell advised four different U.S. Ambassadors. During his tenure, Grenell promulgated U.S. official position and strategy on such issues as the War on Terror, global peacekeeping operations, nuclear proliferation, and the UN Oil for Food corruption scandal.
Consulting, media, and campaign work (2009–2017)
In 2009, Grenell founded Capitol Media Partners, an international strategic media and public affairs consultancy with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C. He was also under contract as a Fox News contributor, commenting on foreign affairs and the media. Grenell has written for The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, CNN, Politico, Huffington Post, The Washington Times, and Al Jazeera. In 2012, CNN ranked Grenell as one of the top five Republican consultants in social media, and Time magazine named Grenell as one of the Top 10 Political Twitter Feeds of 2014.
Grenell was a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican candidate Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential campaign. Grenell is the first openly gay person to work as a spokesperson for a Republican presidential candidate.
In 2016, Grenell's consulting firm accepted more than $100,000 from the Magyar Foundation of North America to provide public relations support for the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán. Grenell did not disclose this payment under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) prior to his work in the Trump administration.
Ambassador to Germany (2017–2020)
In September 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Grenell to become the United States Ambassador to Germany. After a significant delay, the United States Senate confirmed Grenell 56–42 on April 26, 2018. Grenell was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on May 3, 2018, making him the highest-ranking openly gay Ambassador. Grenell was also under consideration for the posts of U.S. Ambassador to NATO and United States Ambassador to the United Nations (filled by Ambassador Kelly Craft).
Grenell presented his credentials to the President of Germany on May 8, 2018. Within hours of taking office, Grenell offended German diplomats and business leaders when he tweeted that "German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." The tweet was widely perceived as a threat, with the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, commenting that "This man was accredited as ambassador only yesterday. To give German businesses such orders … that’s just not how you can treat your allies.” The leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party said that Grenell "does appear to need some tutoring" in the "fine art of diplomacy", while the Left Party urged the Merkel government to summon Grenell to explain his comments.
Grenell stirred controversy in June 2018 by telling Breitbart News, "I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders." This comment was described as a breach of diplomatic protocol and a breach of Article 14 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which requires ambassadors to be politically neutral in the domestic politics of the countries in which they serve. Prominent German politicians called for Grenell's dismissal. Martin Schulz, former leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, said, "What this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy. If a German ambassador were to say in Washington that he is there to boost the Democrats, he would have been kicked out immediately."
Grenell was a regular contributor on Fox News's Tucker Carlson Tonight during the first few months of his ambassadorship in Germany. In November 2018, he appeared on the show and repeated his criticism of Angela Merkel's immigration policies. Grenell compared Merkel unfavorably to the recently elected Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz, who (according to Grenell) "won in a very big way" because of his strict stance on immigration. The magazine Der Spiegel called these remarks a "thinly veiled call for a change of government in Berlin". Grenell's perceived interference in German politics drew criticism from several high-ranking German politicians. In March 2019, Wolfgang Kubicki, Vice President of the Bundestag and deputy chairman of the Free Democratic Party, charged Grenell with acting "like a high commissioner of an occupying power" and called for Grenell to be expelled from Germany.
In December 2018, during the affair surrounding Der Spiegel journalist Claas Relotius, Grenell wrote to the magazine, complained about an anti-American institutional bias, and asked for an independent investigation. In January 2019, Grenell told Handelsblatt that European companies participating in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline are "always in danger, because sanctions are always possible". U.S. administrations had long opposed the Russian-backed Nord Stream 2, a pipeline for delivering natural gas from Russia to Germany. Grenell also threatened to sanction German companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2.
Der Spiegel published a profile of Grenell on January 11, 2019, using interviews with 30 “American and German diplomats, cabinet members, lawmakers, high-ranking officials, lobbyists and think tank experts". The magazine wrote that "almost all of these sources paint an unflattering portrait of the ambassador, one remarkably similar to Donald Trump, the man who sent him to Berlin. A majority of them describe Grenell as a vain, narcissistic person who dishes out aggressively, but can barely handle criticism." The profile claimed that Grenell was politically isolated in Berlin because of his alleged association with the far-right Alternative for Germany Party, causing the leaders of the mainstream German parties—including the Chancellor herself—to avoid contact with him; while Grenell had pressed German parliamentarians to invite him to their districts, most had declined. The sources claimed that Grenell knew little "about Germany and Europe, that he ignores most of the dossiers his colleagues at the embassy write for him, and that his knowledge of the subject matter is superficial".
In the fall of 2018, Grenell played a key diplomatic role in planning the arrest of Julian Assange by providing backchannel assurances to Ecuador that Assange would not face the death penalty in the United States. In February 2019, it was announced that Grenell was leading the Trump administration's newly formed effort to promote the decriminalization of homosexuality in nations in which homosexuality was illegal. In January 2020, Lev Parnas told The Daily Beast that he was told to ask Grenell for advance notice if the DOJ were to move to extradite indicted Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Among other actions as ambassador, Grenell pressured Germany to take a tougher stance against Iran and Hezbollah.
Following his appointment as Acting Director of National Intelligence, Grenell has said he would resign as ambassador once a full-time DNI was confirmed. On May 25, 2020, after John Ratcliffe was confirmed, Grenell confirmed he would resign as ambassador in the coming weeks. He formally resigned on June 1, 2020.
Special presidential envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations
In October 2019, Trump named Grenell a special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations. He continued serving part-time as special envoy after his resignation as ambassador, working from the White House. After months of diplomatic talks, on January 20, 2020, Grenell facilitated negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo where the two nations agreed to restore flights between their capitals for the first time in more than two decades. A June 27, 2020 peace summit between the two sides was arranged to take place in Washington D.C., but was canceled due to the potential indictment of Hashim Thaçi on war crimes.
Grenell organized a new summit, located at the White House, for September 3 and 4, 2020. Grenell, along with his friend Robert C. O'Brien, cohosted the talks. On September 4, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti signed the Kosovo and Serbia economic agreements. The signing ceremony took place in the Oval Office at the White House in the presence of US President Donald Trump on September 4, 2020. In September 2020 Grenell traveled to Kosovo to receive the Presidential Medal of Merits from President Thaçi. His tenure ended with the Trump presidency.
Acting Director of National Intelligence
On February 13, 2020, Shelby Pierson—the intelligence community's top election security official, deputy to Joseph Maguire—advised members of the House Intelligence Committee that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election in an effort to get Trump re-elected. Trump chastised Maguire for allowing the briefing, concerned that Democrats might "weaponize" the information against him.
On February 20, 2020, Trump replaced Maguire as Acting Director of National Intelligence, appointing Grenell to the role. Maguire and his deputy, Andrew Hallman, resigned from the Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI). Kash Patel — a National Security Council official and former aide to congressman Devin Nunes — was named the next day as a senior advisor to Grenell.
As an acting director, Grenell was not subject to Senate confirmation. Although Trump indicated he would be appointing a new U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Grenell kept this position while also serving in his new role, and Grenell indicated he did not expect to take the Director of National Intelligence job on a permanent basis.
On February 28, 2020, Trump announced the nomination of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe to the post of Director of National Intelligence. The nomination allowed Grenell to stay on as acting director pending Ratcliffe's confirmation. With Ratcliffe's confirmation and installation, Grenell's tenure as acting Director ended on May 26, 2020. Trump gave Grenell his Cabinet chair upon his resignation, something unusual for an acting Cabinet member, because of his status as the first openly gay U.S. Cabinet official.
Grenell enacted a hiring freeze at ODNI and ordered a review of the agency's personnel and mission. On May 8, he announced a reorganization of ODNI including a consolidated cyber office, and on May 15, he announced organizational changes to the National Counterterrorism Center. Also on May 15, Grenell announced that ODNI would lead election security threat briefings for 2020 presidential candidates, replacing the FBI.
In April 2020, Grenell said the administration was considering policies to reduce intelligence-sharing with countries that criminalize homosexuality. On April 29, 2020, he ordered each intelligence agency to review their policies on handling and sharing information on U.S. citizens.
On April 2 and 15, 2020, Grenell acted to declassify several footnotes in a report on FISA abuse released by DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. He also played a role in the release of 57 transcripts of Russia probe interviews by the House Intelligence Committee. On May 12, 2020, Grenell declassified the names of Obama administration officials who unmasked Michael Flynn, A subsequent Justice Department investigation of Obama administration unmasking concluded in October 2020 with no findings of substantive wrongdoing. On May 19, 2020, Grenell declassified an email that Obama's national security advisor Susan Rice sent to herself. On the day his tenure ended, Grenell declassified several documents related to the Russia probe.
Private sector (2020–present)
In August 2020, the American Center for Law and Justice announced that Grenell had been named Special Advisor for National Security and Foreign Policy for the organization. That month, Grenell became a senior advisor to the Republican National Committee, focusing on outreach to LGBT voters.
Grenell's selection as a foreign policy adviser to the 2012 Romney campaign stirred up two unrelated controversies. One was due to his "snarky" tweets about various public women, and the other because he is openly gay.
A February 20, 2020, White House press release announcing the appointment of Grenell to the post of Acting Director of National Intelligence, stated that Grenell had "years of experience working with our Intelligence Community in a number of additional positions"; however, this assertion was disputed by others who asserted Grenell had little background in intelligence matters. Republican Senator Susan Collins, one of four co-authors of the legislation creating the ODNI in 2004, said: "I care deeply about that position and believe the person needs experience in the intelligence community, which regrettably Ambassador Grenell does not have."
On the day his tenure began, it was reported that Grenell had not disclosed payments for advocacy work on behalf of Moldovan politician Vladimir Plahotniuc.
On March 10, 2020, Grenell declined to attend a congressional hearing on election security, "citing apprehension about his preparedness to address sensitive subjects that tend to upset the president."
Grenell claimed in August 2020 that "President Trump is the most pro-gay president in American history. I can prove it." The Washington Post fact-checker gave his claim "Four Pinocchios" and described the claim as absurd. The fact-checker noted, "the only items Grenell can cite in support of his supposedly pro-gay record concern Grenell’s own temporary appointment and a policy announced by Grenell that Trump apparently knew little about... That’s pretty thin gruel on which to claim Trump is the most pro-gay president in history, especially when Trump has worked actively to undermine protections for the LGBT community that were enacted under Obama."
On November 2, 2020, the day before election day, Grenell posted an old photo from 2019 to claim that Joe Biden did not wear a mask on a plane during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grenell called Biden a "Washington, DC phony!", suggesting that Biden only wore a mask in public for appearances' sake while not wearing one in private.
On November 5, 2020, Grenell appeared as a speaker of the Trump campaign press conference in Las Vegas, pushing the local effort to overturn the presidential election Donald Trump had lost and announcing a federal lawsuit against "illegal" votes. He made allegations of fraud, claiming that non-residents and people who were long dead had voted in Nevada and accusing the state of covering up these incidents. When asked by journalists to identify himself and present evidence backing up any of his claims, Grenell refused to answer the questions and told reporters: "You're here to take in information". All the post-election lawsuits related to Nevada were later either dropped or dismissed.
A few days later, LGBTQ Nation criticized Grenell after having been tricked on Veterans Day, November 11, 2020, into tweeting well wishes to William Calley, the former U.S. Army officer convicted for the premeditated killings of 22 unarmed civilians in the 1968 Mỹ Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. The Nation journalist Ken Klippenstein had tweeted a picture of Calley to Grenell, pretending it was a photo of his own grandfather and requesting public recognition of the elderly veteran. In response, Grenell tweeted, "Thank you for your service, Bill Calley! #VeteransDay". Upon learning that he'd been the victim of a joke, Grenell tweeted, ""Duped. Trying to be helpful to people who reach out on Veteran's Day. It's a shame people would do this on a day like today. DC is a sick city."
Senior fellow at Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Politics and Strategy
In June 2020, Richard Grenell was made a senior fellow at the Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Politics and Strategy in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. He is to work on two projects, a report on the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and various campus-engagement projects about the changing face of Europe. Grenell's position as Senior Fellow is for one year and is a non-teaching position.
Grenell's appointment was controversial at the university. Dr. Kiron Skinner, the founding director of the Institute for Politics and Strategy, defended the hiring decision on the basis of academic freedom and diversity of thought. The university issued a report on Grenell's hiring, titled Report on the Appointment of Richard Grenell to the Carnegie Mellon University Institute for Politics and Strategy. The report found that Dr. Skinner had followed hiring mandates by consulting with the three deans of Dietrich College, the College of Engineering, and the School of Computer Science. They also found that there had been no other "senior fellow" in the institute's history, and that no other visiting scholars in the university's history had received the title of senior fellow. It also stated that "there are features of the hiring of Mr. Grenell which, to our knowledge, are unique in Carnegie Mellon’s experience, and for which Carnegie Mellon does not currently have policies. As such, the determination of whether appropriate policies and procedures were used cannot be answered." The report's conclusion also stated that "Prof. Skinner followed the small set of existing policies and procedures in place in the hiring of Richard Grenell, and he began his position on July 1."
Grenell is a registered Republican. He has a longtime partner, Matt Lashey.
- Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008. Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Kosovo is currently (this note self-updates) recognized as an independent state by 98 out of the 193 United Nations member states. In total, 113 UN member states recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition.
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The Honorable Richard A. Grenell assumed the role of Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on Feb. 20, 2020.
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