The PayPal cofounder and billionaire investor Peter Thiel recently withdrew his name from consideration to lead the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, according to two sources with direct knowledge of what happened.
Thiel informed the White House of his decision earlier this month, said one of the sources. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations.
Asked about Thiel’s withdrawal, his spokesman Jeremiah Hall declined to comment. A White House spokesman did not immediately comment.
Although Thiel told The New York Times in January that he didn’t want a job in the administration, Vanity Fair reported in September that Thiel was in discussions to lead the PIAB, a panel which oversees U.S. intelligence agencies and advises the president. Previous chairs include Brent Scowcroft, under George W. Bush, and Chuck Hagel, who co-chaired the body under Barack Obama. It’s unclear how far the process went before Thiel backed out, though one of the sources said the process for vetting Thiel for a security clearance had begun.
Thiel has been a key backer of President Trump, spending $1.25 million in support of his campaign during the election. He spoke at the Republican National Convention last year, and gave a speech in Washington at the National Press Club in October 2016 laying out the case for Trump, arguing that “what Trump represents isn't crazy and it’s not going away” and that other politicians were merely “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Thiel joined the transition after the election and his allies can be found throughout the administration, including on the National Security Council and in the Pentagon. His former investment-fund manager Kevin Harrington occupies a senior role on the NSC, and former Palantir official Justin Mikolay works as a top aide to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Thiel is an ardent libertarian whose support for Trump has made him stand out among the generally Trump-critical crowd of Silicon Valley executives.
Though Thiel has remained publicly supportive of Trump, BuzzFeed News reported in August that he had been much more critical in private, telling friends that "there is a 50% chance this whole thing ends in disaster."
As Vanity Fair noted in its story, Thiel’s investments could also pose conflicts of interests if he were to occupy a senior intelligence role. He co-founded the data-mining firm Palantir, which has held contracts with, among others, the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Thiel is seeking to buy Gawker.com, the website he effectively helped to kill last year after secretly bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against it, producing a large judgment that bankrupted Gawker.
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