President Joe Biden plans to nominate attorney and former Bush administration appointee Kenneth Wainstein to lead the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division, according to a department official, a step towards permanent leadership at an office plagued by Trump-era controversies.
Wainstein served in federal government for years, including as a former assistant attorney general and chief of staff to former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
He was also one of 20 former United States attorneys who were appointed and served under Republican presidents to endorse Biden and voice concerns that then-President Donald Trump’s leadership was “a threat to the rule of law.”
In their endorsement, the former US attorneys said that Trump had politicized the Justice Department and undermined the department’s ability to unify and lead the nation’s law enforcement.
If confirmed, Wainstein will become the top intelligence official at DHS, taking the helm as Under Secretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which has been riddled with leadership challenges, morale issues and shifting focus in recent years.
“Ken has decades of government experience at the highest levels. His deep expertise in national security, counterterrorism, and intelligence matters will benefit our Department and our Nation if he is confirmed,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
Wainstein, a partner at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, previously served as the US attorney for the District of Columbia and as the Homeland Security Adviser to former President George W. Bush.
He also served as the Justice Department’s first assistant attorney general for national security, where he oversaw the establishment of the National Security Division. In addition to chief of staff, Wainstein was general counsel at the FBI.
DHS Counterterrorism Coordinator John Cohen has been leading the Homeland Security intelligence office since July, a temporary assignment amid a leadership vacuum.
During the final year of the Trump administration, the Intelligence and Analysis Office became entangled in a series of public controversies, starting with a revelation that the office compiled “intelligence reports” about the work of two US journalists covering protests in Portland, Oregon, last summer.
An internal review, released last month, found that insufficient supervision, improper collection tradecraft and the deployment of “untrained, inexperienced” collectors to Portland was in part to blame for the issues at the time.
There was also a leadership shakeup, a scathing whistleblower report and accusations of retaliation.
The office has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since David Glawe’s departure in May 2020.
Brian Murphy, who served for a time during the Trump administration as the acting under secretary for the DHS intelligence office, was reassigned last August.
About a month later, in a whistleblower report first reported by CNN, Murphy alleged that top DHS political appointees repeatedly instructed career officials to modify intelligence assessments to suit Trump’s agenda.
The office also came under scrutiny for not producing a bulletin or warning about the potential for violence at the US Capitol on January 6.
In recent months, under Cohen’s leadership, the office has been trying to revamp its stature, putting more emphasis on analyzing online threats of violence and working to revive its state and local partner relationships.
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