The Trump administration has chosen former Fox News reporter Lea Gabrielle the special envoy and coordinator of the Global Engagement Center as part of the State Department's efforts to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation. The announcement had been predicted to come as soon as today, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.
"Lea will provide the permanent leadership we have needed to bolster the Global Engagement Center's operations," said Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino. "She will begin her duties on Monday."
You heard that right: a Fox News reporter hired to head up the State Department's counter-propaganda efforts.
Gabrielle's name was first floated for the position in September, and she would join a number of Fox News journalists, such as Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, and the Bill Shine, the White House Communications chief, who've been hired by the Trump administration to serve key policy roles.
A former general assignment reporter for Shepard Smith Reporting, Gabrielle, a United States Naval Academy graduate and ex-fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, previously worked as a military reporter. She courted controversy last year after she criticized President Donald Trump on air over his plans for a military parade in Washington, referring to the idea as "completely unnecessary."
The GEC's mission includes "countering the adverse effects of state-sponsored propaganda and disinformation." Gabrielle's appointment comes at a time when the United States is contending with online disinformation campaigns, such as one that the Justice Department spoke of last week after a pro-Russian Twitter account disseminated confidential information from a case the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought against a Russian company.
But Gabrielle is inexperienced and would not be up to the task, according to Brett Bruen, a former White House director of global engagement during the Obama administration.
"Lea may be a great reporter and pilot. She has evidenced absolutely no knowledge of or experience with information warfare. Our nation, indeed the world, faces a serious and sophisticated threat. We need leadership that can take on this danger from day one," he said. "Her appointment endangers our elections, our public discourse, and potentially our economy."
The irony of Gabrielle's appointment is not lost on anyone, given her previous affiliation with Fox News, which has repeatedly come under fire for its often flattering coverage of the president and the tendency of its staff to amplify the president's messaging, even when shown to be false or misleading.
One administration official says the extent of Gabrielle's qualifications for the role is unclear. However, they expressed a belief that she'll be "an effective spokesperson."
How Gabrielle will impact the GEC's mandate is also unclear; the Trump administration's State Department has been criticized for not taking the threat of Russian disinformation efforts seriously.
Additionally, the State Department's failure to embark on a $40 million initiative to counter Russia election interference and disinformation has also been questioned. The funds for the initiative came by way of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It's unclear, however, how much of the initiative has been carried out and how much of that funding has been made available to the GEC.
That $40 million amount is "just a third of what was originally intended," according to March 2018 report from The New York Times that found "the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million it has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections or sow distrust in democracy."
The report continued:
As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign — speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts.
The president has in recent days retaliated against the House Intelligence Committee, saying that there is no reason for Congress to investigate whether his decision-making (which has often been described as deferential to Russian adversaries) has been motivated by financial gain.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the investigation will “allow us to investigate any credible allegation that financial interests or other interests are driving decision-making of the President or anyone in the administration," adding that the investigation's scope “pertains to any credible allegations of leverage by the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else.”
The president characterized the probe as “Unlimited Presidential Harassment.”
The president has not personally addressed how his administration will counter Russian propaganda efforts.