SALT LAKE CITY — A staunch defender of President Donald Trump throughout impeachment, Rep. Chris Stewart apparently didn’t get the national intelligence director job because he called Trump “our Mussolini” four years ago.
Bloomberg, citing two people familiar with the deliberations, reported Friday that Trump was close to nominating Stewart for the post until he learned of a 2016 video clip in which the Utah congressman compared him to the fascist dictator.
“As a Republican, I’m telling you, Donald Trump does not represent Republican ideals,” Stewart told University of Utah students at a Hinckley Institute of Politics forum in March 2016. “He’s our Mussolini.”
The New York Times reported earlier this month that national security adviser Robert O’Brien was pushing Trump to nominate Stewart, now a strong supporter of the president.
Joseph Maguire, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, had filled in as acting director of national intelligence since Dan Coats resigned last August. But under current law limiting how long acting Cabinet-level officials can serve, Maguire must step down next month.
On Wednesday, Trump named Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, to serve as acting director of national intelligence.
Stewart congratulated Grenell in a tweet, saying he has been a “fantastic ambassador and I am confident he will do a great job in his new role.”
Trump berated Maguire after he allowed a House Intelligence Committee briefing last week in which intelligence officials warned that Russia is interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get Trump reelected, according to the New York Times.
A member of the Intelligence committee, Stewart was among the Republicans who challenged the conclusion about Russia’s support for Trump in the briefing.
Stewart, according to two people briefed on the meeting, insisted that the president had aggressively confronted Moscow, providing anti-tank weapons to Ukraine for its war against Russia-backed separatists and strengthening the NATO alliance with new resources, the Times reported.
Stewart declined to discuss the briefing but said that Moscow had no reason to support Trump, the Times said. He pointed to the president’s work to confront Iran, a Russian ally, and encourage European energy independence from Moscow.
“I’d challenge anyone to give me a real-world argument where Putin would rather have President Trump and not Bernie Sanders,” Stewart told the Times, referring to the Democratic presidential front-runner.
Stewart’s office did not respond Friday to a Deseret News request to interview the congressman about the intelligence report.