“In many respects, Michael has come to personify the strengths and qualities of this great organization, and it is difficult for me to imagine CIA without Michael’s exceptionally sharp mind, tremendous energy, and absolute dedication to mission,” Brennan continued. “But I am comforted by the fact that Michael will be able to spend more time with his wonderful family.”
In his statement tacked onto the end of Brennan’s announcement, Morell said he’s “passionate about two things in this world—the Agency and my family.”
“And while I have given everything I have to the Central Intelligence Agency and its vital mission for a third of a century, it is now time for me to give everything I have to my family,” he said. Morell has three college-aged children.
“I will miss the people—the talented and dedicated officers on the senior leadership team, my colleagues on the Deputies Committee with whom I have spent countless hours in the Situation Room, and, most of all, the CIA workforce—the heroes of this place, the people at the pointy end of the spear, the patriots who do the work of keeping the country safe every day,” he added.
Morell’s note highlighted how he was “at the side of President Bush on that horrific day in September 2001″ and “at President Obama’s side as the United States brought Bin Ladin to justice in May 2011—and all the ups and downs in between.”
Does his departure have to do with one of those in-between days?
On the chess-board angle, Obama would be moving an ally without a day of CIA experience into the deputy director role at a time when he wants Brennan to be reshaping the war on terror strategy to a pre-9/11 mindset — something that may not sit well with the rank and file who live the threats day in and day out, such as the reported CIA employees who have wanted to come forward in the Benghazi scandal but have been prevented from doing so.
Obama first nominated Avril Haines, who worked for John Kerry at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before becoming a deputy legal adviser at the State Department and joining the White House counsel’s office in 2010, to the post of legal adviser at the State Department. On Thursday, he withdrew the April 18 nomination and resubmitted her name for the CIA.
Haines, working with Brennan, helped craft those new talking points that Obama laid out in his May speech on counterterrorism strategy and drone use.
Days before that address, the White House dumped more than 100 pages of Benghazi talking points emails — pointing blame at the CIA, not the State Department, for the controversial edits.
“I think there has been ample demonstration by the facts of the evolution of the talking points, the role that Ambassador Rice played in conveying the information that Director Clapper, that Mike Morell, that senior members of the intelligence community have made very clear were the assessments of the intelligence community,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week.
But Morell had also been talking to Congress.
On May 20, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said he had talked “somewhat confidentially” with Morell about the emails.
“His reports were that the analysts gave these talking points. He did edit them and then they went up the chain,” McCaul said. “I find it hard to believe, just based upon common sense, that there wasn’t some machinations going on in the State Department to change the theme of this to be not one of an act of terrorism, but rather a video.”
“And so I think that’s our ongoing examination in the Congress about Benghazi. This is — these are going to be tough questions. Now, I think he’s testifying before the Intelligence Committee. Always in secret. But I’m on Foreign Affairs; they will be out and open,” McCaul added.
Morell testimony is not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee schedule. He leaves office Aug. 9.
“When you look at this train, you still have to ask the question, how did they go from the correct information to the incorrect information?” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said after the emails were released. “And isn’t 100 pages or more a pushback on the CIA — effectively telling the CIA, you’ve got to change your story?”
In late October, Petraeus quietly slipped away to Tripoli to conduct his own investigation into the Benghazi attacks. In the first week of November, his affair had been laid bare and he was out at the CIA.
A resigned official can still be asked to come voluntarily or subpoenaed before a congressional committee. But a resigned official, as seen with the Benghazi whistleblowers, carries the stigma of sour grapes if they don’t carry their administration’s water at a hearing: after former deputy chief of mission in Libya Gregory Hicks testified before the House Oversight panel in May, critics dismissed his retaliation claims as bitterness over not getting the promotion he wanted.