CIA Director Gina Haspel almost resigned in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.
Why it matters: The revelations stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency.
Behind the scenes: Trump planned to name Patel deputy director of the CIA on Dec. 11. But in a briefing that day, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a full-throated defense of Haspel, calling the CIA director a patriot, praising her job performance and trying to reassure Trump that she had his back.
- White House Counsel Pat Cipollone had also repeatedly defended Haspel to the president.
- Trump abruptly switched course, deciding to call off the plan to install Patel. But there was one glitch: Just down the hall, White House Chief of Staff Meadows had already told Haspel that Patel would be installed her as deputy. He was forced to swallow his pride and reverse the order.
The big picture: Haspel has long been a target of Trump's conservative allies over her reluctance to declassify documents from the Russia investigation.
- Patel has no CIA experience, but gained the president’s trust as the key author of a House Intelligence Committee memo in which Nunes accused the Department of Justice and the FBI of abusing surveillance laws as part of a politically-motivated effort to take down Trump.
- Patel served for four months as principal deputy to Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell, was a terrorism prosecutor at DOJ, served on Trump’s National Security Council, worked at Joint Special Operations Command and served as senior official on the House Intelligence Committee.
- Patel currently serves as chief of staff to acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, who replaced Mark Esper after he was fired in November.
Driving the news: On Friday, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a prominent election-overturning conspiracy theorist and booster of pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and lawyer Sidney Powell, visited Trump for his final Friday afternoon in the Oval Office.
- Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford caught a picture of Lindell’s notes before he entered the West Wing.
- Among the pillow entrepreneur’s prescriptions for the president was the eye-catching line: “Move Kash Patel to CIA Acting.”
What they're saying: Patel declined to comment on the president’s early-December plan, but sold Axios, “I do want to say on the record that I have never met, spoken to, seen, texted, or communicated with Mike Lindell.