Biden's transition moves ahead

President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del. on Nov. 25, 2020.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del. on Nov. 25, 2020. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Former CIA Acting Director Mike Morell may have lost his strongest competition to lead the agency when Tom Donilon decided not to join Joe Biden’s administration but others are still in the mix for the remaining intelligence seat in the President-elect’s Cabinet. 

David Cohen, a former deputy director of the CIA under former President Barack Obama, is being considered by the Biden transition team, two sources familiar tell CNN. 

Also in the pool of candidates are Vincent Stewart, a former leader of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Marine general, Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of Homeland Security under Obama (who is also being considered for defense secretary), former Obama senior adviser Lisa Monaco and Sue Gordon, the former principal deputy director of National Intelligence under President Trump who spent decades at the CIA.

They have emerged as stronger contenders while Morell’s status as a frontrunner has been tested with a barrage of attacks from Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden for being a “torture apologist.” 

Gordon’s name had already been floated by the Biden transition team to Democrats on Capitol Hill, two Democratic senate aides said, but since Wyden’s attacks senior transition officials have spoken with other Democratic senators, including members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to discuss possible candidates.

The committee is the first gauntlet on the path to confirmation and Gordon “would be very popular if nominated,” one of the aides told CNN, suggesting she may have an easier time being confirmed than Morell if he starts taking more fire from progressives. Monaco is also in the running, multiple sources familiar with the discussions say.

“I would always serve my country,” Gordon told CNN on Monday, “If asked, I would serve.”

Gordon resigned from her post as the intelligence community’s No. 2 in August 2019 after it became clear Trump wanted her out. “You should have your team,” Gordon told Trump in a farewell note. 

During the 2020 campaign the fiercely apolitical Gordon advised the Biden team on a range of intelligence issues but never officially joined the campaign or transition team. Her ability to sail through confirmation may be appealing to the incoming administration, though there’s no indication that Wyden’s attacks on Morell would block his confirmation. 

The Biden transition team has kept candidates for intelligence roles in the dark as to where they stand, several people familiar with the process said.

Those being considered – like Morell and Gordon – have had such lengthy careers and track records that they’re known quantities for Biden officials helping the incoming president make his decision.