NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Richard Grenell, recently appointed as acting director of national intelligence and the highest-ranking openly gay presidential appointee in U.S. history, has scrapped an appearance at a prominent annual conservative conference as scrutiny over his appointment grows.
Although the agenda for the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, had indicated as of Thursday night Grenell would speak Friday morning on the main stage at the conference, his name was gone from the agenda as of Friday morning.
An ODNI spokesperson said Grenell was removed from the CPAC agenda because he cancelled.
“He accepted the invitation as ambassador to Germany, and when he was named acting DNI, he decided not to participate,” an Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesperson reportedly told CNN.
But Grenell was named acting director of national intelligence more than a week ago. If he cancelled because of the appointment, that explanation doesn’t account for why his name was listed on the CPAC agenda as of late Thursday evening.
Grenell was at least one of two openly gay speakers slated to speak at CPAC. Brandon Straka — founder of the “Walk Away” movement encouraging minority groups, including LGBTQ people, to bolt the Democratic Party — was scheduled to speak and made an appearance on stage Friday.
Grenell’s name was removed from the agenda as he faces increasing scrutiny over his appointment as head of national intelligence. Even though he was given the position on an “acting” basis, he’s faced bispartisan criticism from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters this week Grenell “does not have” the experience for the job and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) issued a lengthy statement at the time of the appointment decrying Trump’s pick for his lack of experience.
On the other hand, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was initially silent on Grenell, but later said he supports the appointee.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called on the Justice Department to investigate Grenell because he “may have misled Congress” on his past work as a political consultant.
As first reported by ProPublica, Grenell didn’t register as a foreign agent even he though he did work for a Moldovan oligarch, Vladimir Plahotnius, who was later accused of corruption. A lawyer for Grenell has said he didn’t need to register for the work under federal law.
Trump named Grenell acting director of national intelligence after reportedly fuming over intelligence officials briefing House lawmakers on Russia attempting to influence the 2020 race to re-elect him. Trump reportedly said he thought Democrats would use that against him and subsequently swapped Joseph Maguire with Grenell, a Trump loyalist.
A White House spokesperson referred the Blade to DNI for comment on the removal of Grenell from the CPAC agenda.
Grenell’s bio was still included on CPAC’s speakers list as of Friday afternoon.