In an unusual personnel move, the White House announced this afternoon that the President has withdrawn the nomination of Avril Haines to be the Legal Adviser of the State Department and is appointing her instead to be the Deputy Director of the CIA, to succeed Mike Morrell, who is retiring. The Deputy Director position does not require Senate confirmation.
Avril currently serves as Deputy Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the NSC, where she had been at John Brennan’s right hand for three years until he became CIA Director earlier this year.
Avril is widely respected among national security lawyers as extremely smart, non-partisan, hard-working, conscientious, and humble. She was not expected to have any confirmation problems. But she has worked very closely with Brennan on counter-terrorism and sensitive intelligence issues, and Brennan and the White House apparently believed that she could make a better contribution to the Obama team at the CIA. As NSC Legal Adviser, Avril has also participated regularly in meetings of NSC Principals and Deputies relating to intelligence programs and other national security matters.
This will come as a bitter disappointment for the State Department, where Avril had previously served as Assistant Legal Adviser for Treaty Affairs (while I served as Legal Adviser). She would have been a fantastic Legal Adviser, given her previous experience in the Legal Adviser’s office, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as NSC Legal Adviser. And she would have worked seamlessly with other Administration national security lawyers with whom she has worked for the last several years, including current CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston, who has been nominated to be DoD General Counsel.
But the CIA will be getting a real gem. Having served at CIA (and as NSC Legal Adviser), I can attest that CIA does not adjust easily to outsiders. But I think Avril will be different and that CIA officials will quickly come to love and respect her. Although this move is unsual, Avril will be a good pick for CIA.