In a move that underscores President Joe Biden’s trust and reliance on CIA Director William Burns, the president has elevated Burns to a cabinet position. This is a rare honor, as few CIA directors have previously served as cabinet members. Burns now joins the ranks of John Deutsch and George Tenet, who were appointed to the cabinet by President Bill Clinton, and William Casey, who served in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet.
Burns, a trusted advisor to President Biden, has been sent on numerous diplomatic missions overseas. His assignments have included a trip to Russia in November 2021 to caution President Vladimir Putin against invading Ukraine, a warning that unfortunately went unheeded. Burns also made a semi-secret visit to China in June, meeting with Chinese intelligence officials to maintain open and constructive communication between the two superpowers. Additionally, he has made several trips to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In his announcement, President Biden praised Burns, quoting the CIA director’s own words: “As Bill says: ‘Good intelligence delivered with honesty and integrity, is America’s first line of defense.’” Biden added, “Since his first day on the job, Bill has demonstrated the meaning behind those words. Working in lockstep with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Bill has harnessed intelligence to give our country a critical strategic advantage.”
Burns, a 67-year-old career diplomat, assumed the role of CIA director on March 19, 2021, after being nominated by President Biden and unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate. His elevation to the cabinet has yet to grant him any new authority. Still, it allows him to participate in cabinet meetings alongside top secretaries and other officials in the administration. Importantly, Burns’ cabinet position places him in a strategic intelligence triad with the president and Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines.
Before joining the CIA, Burns served as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace president from 2014 to 2021. His extensive career in the U.S. Foreign Service spanned 32 years. It included roles such as executive secretary of the State Department, ambassador to Jordan and Russia, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, and undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Upon his cabinet appointment, Burns expressed his gratitude: “The President’s announcement today recognizes the essential contributions to national security the Central Intelligence Agency makes daily and reflects his confidence in our work. I am honored to serve in this role, representing the tremendous work of our intelligence officers. It is also an honor to serve alongside our exceptional intelligence community colleagues under the leadership of DNI Avril Haines.”
However, Burns’ career has not been without controversy. Reports surfaced in the spring that he had three scheduled meetings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in 2014 while serving as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. The CIA confirmed that Burns had met Epstein but emphasized that they had “no relationship.”
While some may question Burns’ past encounters, it’s clear that President Biden values his expertise and contributions to national security. As Republicans, we must remain vigilant and hold our leaders accountable, ensuring that they prioritize the safety and prosperity of our nation above all else.