A leading candidate to become the top intelligence official in a future Donald Trump administration may find himself out of a job first.
Obama administration officials want to remove Adm. Michael Rogers from his position as the director of the National Security Agency, current and former U.S. officials told The Daily Beast. Quietly, a movement to replace Rogers has been brewing as rank-and-file employees, many of them civilians, have bristled under his military-style leadership.
Rogers has never been an especially beloved director, but the degree of animosity towards him, including from outside his agency, became clearer on Saturday after The Washington Post reported Rogers’s job was in jeopardy. Last month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recommended to the White House that Rogers be removed, the Post said, following a disastrous leak of huge amounts of classified NSA information by one of its contractors, as well as what Carter has seen as Rogers’s unimpressive conduct of a cyber war against ISIS. (Rogers also serves as the commander of U.S. Cyber Command, which runs offensive computer attacks.)
The knives are apparently out for Rogers. But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who is advising President-elect Trump on candidates for top national security jobs, rushed to Rogers’s defense and called his detractors “snakes” who wanted to punish a distinguished military officer.
Rep. Devin Nunes told The Daily Beast that allegations of poor management and failure in the fight against ISIS have never been brought up before his committee. “There’s never been a hint of any issue with Adm. Rogers. There is no basis for this,” Nunes said in an interview. “We would have heard the complaints.”
Rogers is a “boy scout” who has never played politics in his role running the nation’s largest intelligence agency, Nunes said. “He’s not political at all. He’s very professional.”
Nunes said it was no coincidence that when it became clear Rogers might have a role in the Trump administration, his critics came out against him.
“This is even a new low even for these people,” Nunes said.
A source familiar with the controversy said that NSA officials “got wind” on Wednesday that news of Rogers’s perilous situation might become the subject of press attention. The next day, Rogers met in New York with Trump about a possible job in his administration as the Director of National Intelligence.
It’s not clear whether Rogers was aware his enemies were planning to take their grievances public, and if that compelled him to look for a new position. But tapping Rogers for intelligence director would be a dramatic turn of events, since the current occupant of that job, Clapper, is one of those said to be angling to remove Rogers.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Rogers is the leading choice to replace Clapper.
But Rogers hasn’t exactly shown himself to be a political partisan. In fact, speaking publicly about this week about the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, Rogers all but said it was a Russian operation designed to get Trump elected.
“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s minds, this was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance, this was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect,” Rogers said.
Rogers’s job has also been in doubt owing to changes that the Obama administration wants to make in the leadership of NSA and Cyber Command. Currently, Rogers leads both groups, in a so-called dual hatted position. But some officials want to split up those jobs.
One former official said that the potential split has been the subject of debate and conversation for some time, and that a civilian would likely be put in charge of the NSA. Rearranging the bureaucratic boxes seemed like an odd explanation for the campaign to oust Rogers.
Nunes, in a letter Saturday to Clapper and Carter, asked them “to provide a full explanation of the allegations” made against Rogers. Nunes told The Daily Beast that he is prepared to hold an open hearing on the issue unless he receives answers from the two men.
Given Rogers more than 30-year career in the military and intelligence, Nunes said he was a logical choice for the intelligence director’s job.
“He is absolutely qualified to serve as DNI. But it’s not my decision. It’s up to the president-elect to decide,” Nunes said.