Biden Picks Burns as C.I.A. Director

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William J. Burns has been vocal in his belief that American diplomacy has been damaged during the Trump administration.
Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden has selected William J. Burns, a career State Department official who led the U.S. delegation in secret talks with Iran, to run the Central Intelligence Agency.

In selecting Mr. Burns, Mr. Biden is turning to an experienced diplomat with whom he has a long relationship. The two men have worked together on various foreign policy issues, not just during the Obama administration, but also while Mr. Biden led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Burns has also long worked with Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s pick for national security adviser, and has been influential in helped foster the younger man’s career.

Mr. Biden’s choice sends a message that American intelligence will not be influenced by politics.

In a statement early Monday, the president-elect said that Mr. Burns “shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect.”

Still, Mr. Burns’ experience is as a consumer of intelligence, not as a producer. C.I.A. directors are expected to put aside their policy recommendations and focus on information and prediction. Still, former agency officials have asserted the most important quality in a director is not expertise in intelligence, but a relationship with the president, which Mr. Burns has.

During his presidency, President Trump has undermined and dismissed intelligence officials and has called them “passive” and “naïve” in their analysis of national security threats posed by Iran.

Currently, Mr. Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has been vocal in his belief that American diplomacy has been damaged in the Trump administration.

Described as a “steady hand” and a “very effective firefighter,” by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Burns spent 32 years at the State Department, where he was the American ambassador to Moscow and Jordan, and in high-level leadership positions in Washington.

Mr. Burns has been a trusted diplomat in Republican and Democratic administrations. He has played a role in the agency’s most prominent, and painful, moments over the past two decades.

In 2012, he accompanied the bodies of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on a C-17 flight from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Washington after the attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya. In 2002, Mr. Burns wrote a memo he titled “The Perfect Storm,” which highlighted the dangers of American intervention in Iraq.

Mr. Burns retired from the State Department in 2014.

For a time, Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A., was considered the leading candidate for the top agency post. But some Democratic senators voiced public and private reservations. Senate liberals, including Ron Wyden of Oregon, opposed picking Mr. Morell, accusing him of defending torture. Mr. Morell’s representatives said Mr. Wyden had inaccurately portrayed his record and comments about the C.I.A. interrogation program.

Earlier, Thomas E. Donilon, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, withdrew his name from consideration for the post. David Cohen, a former deputy director of the C.I.A., had also been considered.

A key question will be how Mr. Burns can work with Avril D. Haines, Mr. Biden’s choice to lead the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The Biden transition team has said Ms. Haines will be the senior intelligence official in the administration and does not intend to make the C.I.A. director a formal member of the cabinet. In past administrations, there have often been tension between the director of national intelligence and the C.I.A. director.

Mr. Burns was considered a likely candidate to run the State Department in the incoming Biden administration. He could prove critical in helping Mr. Biden restart discussions with Tehran after Mr. Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The House moved on two fronts on Sunday to try to force President Trump from office, escalating pressure on the vice president to strip him of power and committing to quickly begin impeachment proceedings against him for inciting a mob that violently attacked the seat of American government.

In a letter to colleagues, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the House would move forward on Monday with a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, and wrest the powers of the presidency. She called on Mr. Pence to respond “within 24 hours” and indicated she expected a Tuesday vote on the resolution.

Next, she said, the House would bring an impeachment case to the floor. Though she did not specify how quickly it would move, leading Democrats have suggested they could press forward on a remarkably quick timetable, charging Mr. Trump by midweek with “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“In protecting our Constitution and our democracy, we will act with urgency, because this president represents an imminent threat to both,” she wrote. “As the days go by, the horror of the ongoing assault on our democracy perpetrated by this president is intensified and so is the immediate need for action.”

Ms. Pelosi’s actions in effect gave Mr. Pence, who is said to be opposed to the idea, an ultimatum: use his power under the Constitution to force Mr. Trump out by declaring him unable to discharge his duties, or make him the first president in American history to be impeached twice.

With few Democrats hopeful Mr. Pence would act, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the party’s No. 3, said the House could vote to impeach Mr. Trump by Wednesday, one week before Inauguration Day. Lawmakers were put on notice to return to Washington, and their leaders consulted with the Federal Air Marshal Service and law enforcement on how to safely move them back into a Capitol that was ransacked in a shocking security failure less than a week ago.

“If we are the people’s house, let’s do the people’s work and let’s vote to impeach this president,” Mr. Clyburn said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The Senate will decide later what to do with that impeachment.”

In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Clyburn suggested that Ms. Pelosi was considering impeaching now but not sending the article to the Senate for trial for weeks — possibly until after Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office. The Senate must immediately begin a trial when it receives impeachment articles, but it cannot begin one without them.

“Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” said Mr. Clyburn, an influential ally to the incoming president. “And maybe we will send the articles sometime after that.”

Pressure against the president continued to build, including from some Republicans. Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania became the second Republican senator to call for Mr. Trump to resign, joining Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. But a day after he called Mr. Trump’s conduct “impeachable,” Mr. Toomey argued an impeachment would be impractical with Mr. Trump already headed for the exit.

As of Sunday morning, 210 of 222 Democrats — nearly a majority of the chamber — had signed onto the article of impeachment drawn up by Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Ted Lieu of California. It charges Mr. Trump with “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States.”

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