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How New Acting Intel Director Richard Grenell Has Served As Ambassador To Germany


President Trump has named Richard Grenell as the new acting director of national intelligence. He'll be in charge of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. Grenell has no background in intelligence. He has tweeted that he won't be nominated for the position permanently. He already has a full-time job as U.S. ambassador to Germany.

After he took that post, Emily Schultheis looked closely at his impact in Berlin for a story for Politico Magazine, and she joins us now.


EMILY SCHULTHEIS: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Grenell officially became ambassador to Germany in May of 2018. And one month later, in your piece, you wrote, it is hard to overstate just how brashly he has charged onto the Berlin political scene during his first month in town. What happened?

SCHULTHEIS: Well, Richard Grenell is essentially tailor-made for the Trump era of diplomacy, which, given the relationship between the United States and Germany and the way that that's changed since Trump took office, let's say, ruffled more than a few feathers when he first arrived here.

SHAPIRO: Like, what did he do specifically?

SCHULTHEIS: So just to start, on your first day, you come, you present your credentials to the president. He did that. He met the president of Germany. And then later that day, he tweeted saying that German businesses should cease all relations and business with Iranian companies immediately.

SHAPIRO: Not something that a diplomat typically does on their first day.

SCHULTHEIS: (Laughter) No, definitely not. And people were a little bit taken aback by the demanding tone and the manner of delivery - via Twitter rather than perhaps in person to diplomats that he was meeting in the coming days.

SHAPIRO: And he's gotten involved in German politics in other ways, too, that are unusual for an ambassador, right?

SCHULTHEIS: He has. So another thing that he did at the time and which he's followed up on since was he gave an interview to Breitbart, which that in and of itself was already a bit of a provocation to people here. But he said that he wanted to, quote, "empower conservatives across Europe."

And here in Germany, where you have the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, that was taken in the sense that he wanted to empower people like them, empower parties like them. He called Sebastian Cortes, who is the chancellor of neighboring Austria, a political rock star and invited him to lunch. The lunch never ended up happening, but it was clear that he sought to kind of promote Trumpian politics or Trumpism abroad in ways that made the German establishment really uncomfortable.

SHAPIRO: Was this a sense of he didn't understand the role of the ambassador, or he just had a completely different view of what the role of the ambassador ought to be, and according to his view, he was doing a great job of it?

SCHULTHEIS: Well, that's the thing. I think if you look at it from the German perspective, it was, you know, complete disbelief that after a series of ambassadors who had come here, represented the American view but sought to understand Germany's views and relay those things back and forth the way that, you know, Germany had sort of traditionally considered this role, by their standards, this was shocking.

But I think that, like you say, Grenell never considered his role here to be a traditional ambassador, to carry messages back and forth, to relay information. He saw himself as really this representative for Trump. He saw himself as Trump's man in Europe and considered his portfolio - Germany, sure, which is an important enough portfolio in and of itself, but also to be sort of broadly around Europe, not just here.

SHAPIRO: You followed Grenell's tenure since you published this piece. Has anything changed?

SCHULTHEIS: Not really. You know, it's been - I looked a little bit today over some of the headlines in Germany after this was announced, and pretty much every single one of them mentioned something about sort of constant provocation or polarizing or difficult. And it doesn't mean that he hasn't gotten results in certain ways on certain issues, but he has continually, you know, really sought to disrupt things here, I think. Maybe a week ago or 10 days ago, I saw him in a Twitter fight with a German member of the Bundestag that I've spoken with in the past. And so it's been a fairly consistent strategy toward the work that he's done here.

SHAPIRO: Emily Schultheis is a freelance journalist and fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs in Berlin. We spoke with her on Skype.

Thank you very much.

SCHULTHEIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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