A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats

A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats
© Greg Nash

News broke Friday that numerous White House officials are once again discussing the possible departure of Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer Trump officials including Fiona Hill helped prepare Biden for Putin summit: report Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Experts see 'unprecedented' increase in hackers targeting electric grid MORE, the president’s director of national intelligence.

A senior White House official told CNN on Friday about recent discussions to replace Coats, while several sources told Axios that Trump himself has told aides he is considering ousting the DNI.

Coats, meanwhile, bristled at the rumors when asked for comment Friday, telling The Hill that it was “frustrating to repeatedly be asked to respond to anonymous sources and unsubstantiated, often false rumors that undercut the critical work of the Intelligence Community and its relationship with the President.”

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As speculation swirls in Washington for the second time this year over Coats's future in in the administration, here’s a look back at the memorable moments of his relationship with the president:

Trump's nomination of Coats is widely praised and he receives swift confirmation

In early January of 2017, two weeks before he would officially assume office, Trump’s transition team announced that Coats would be Trump’s choice for DNI.

His nomination was immediately praised by Senate sources on both sides of the aisle, as Coats served as a widely-respected member of the chamber for six years prior to his nomination and was also served Indiana in the Senate from 1989 to 1999.

One Democratic official told Reuters at the time that Coats was a “very reasonable guy.”

Two months later, Coats would be swept into office by a wide margin after the full Senate voted 85-17 to confirm Trump’s nominee.

Coats was one of the president’s least controversial picks, with others such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosBiden Education Department hires vocal proponent of canceling student debt Erik Prince involved in push for experimental COVID-19 vaccine: report Biden administration reverses Trump-era policy that hampered probes of student loan companies MORE and former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHouse passes legislation to elevate cybersecurity at the State Department Biden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet With salami-slicing and swarming tactics, China's aggression continues MORE receiving far more scrutiny.

Coats battles with Trump over Russia probe

Trump's clashes with his DNI reportedly began just a few months later, with Coats telling House investigators in June of 2017 that the president seemed obsessed with the prospect of Coats announcing publicly that Trump had been exonerated by the probe into Russian election interference.

A month earlier, Coats had made clear publicly that he did not believe it was “appropriate” to comment on the investigation, which at that time was in its early stages.

“I have always believed, given the nature of my position and the information which [the president and I] share, it’s not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that,” he said in May.

Trump's Helsinki summit with Putin

Trump’s biggest clash with Coats came in 2018 following a summit between himself and Russia’s Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinFox News: 'Entirely unacceptable' for 'NSA to unmask Tucker Carlson' Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia next week MORE, after which Trump indicated during a joint press conference with Putin that he took Putin’s word regarding allegations of election interference.

In July of 2018, Trump told reporters that he has “great confidence in my intelligence people,” while adding that he doesn’t “see any reason why” Russia would have been involved in meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The remarks were swiftly condemned by former top intelligence officials including Coats’ predecessor, James ClapperJames Robert ClapperDomestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack MORE, who called them “unbelievable” and former CIA chief John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanUFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation The world's most passionate UFO skeptic versus the government MORE who called them “treasonous.”

Coats fires back, reiterates support for intelligence consensus on Russia

Coats knocked the president in a rare public statement a day later, writing that the intelligence community at large was “clear” in its assessment that Russia was involved in election interference.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” Coats said at the time.

Coats joins chorus of denials surrounding anonymous Trump official’s op-ed

In September of 2018, Coats once again found himself in the spotlight after an anonymous senior Trump administration official penned an op-ed for The New York Times questioning the president’s stability and fitness for office.

Coats was suspected to be the author by some critics of the president, including MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, and joined many other officials in denying that he or his deputies were involved, calling such rumors “patently false.”

Trump and Coats differ on threat posed by North Korea and ISIS

Trump and his director of national intelligence offered starkly different opinions earlier this year concerning the threat posed by foreign terrorist groups including the Islamic State.

Coats released a lengthy report in late January alongside CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community MORE describing the continued risk of ISIS-inspired attacks in the West, despite major gains from U.S. backed forces against ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria.

“The group will exploit any reduction in [counterterrorism] pressure to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities, such as media production and external operations,” the report stated.

The dispute then escalated when Coats just days later publicly broke with Trump on North Korea during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, telling lawmakers that there was little chance that the North would surrender its nuclear arsenal.

North Korea is "unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival," Coats told the senators.

The remarks came ahead of the president’s second summit with Kim earlier this year, which unlike their first meeting last year failed to produce a meaningful agreement on disarmament.

Trump pushes back: ISIS ‘will soon be destroyed,’ North Korea relationship ‘better than ever’

In a tweet following Coats’ report, Trump argued that the Islamic State was on its last legs in the Middle East and could no longer strike the West.

“When I became President, ISIS was out of control in Syria & running rampant. Since then tremendous progress made, especially over last 5 weeks,” he wrote.

In subsequent tweets, the president contradicted Coats on the issue of North Korea, tweeting that the relationship between the U.S. and the country was “better than ever.”

“Time will tell what will happen with North Korea, but at the end of the previous administration, relationship was horrendous and very bad things were about to happen. Now a whole different story. I look forward to seeing Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnUS diplomat says she's concerned about North Korea food shortages linked to pandemic Xi, Kim vow to strengthen North Korea and China's friendship, cooperation North Korea reports 'grave incident' related to COVID-19 MORE shortly. Progress being made-big difference!” he added.

Cancelled meeting signals tension between Trump and intelligence officials

Following the report’s release, the White House abruptly rescheduled a planned meeting between Trump, Coats, and other intelligence officials with little warning and no reason given.

Around the same time, Trump lashed out at unnamed intelligence officials on Twitter regarding his Iran policy, calling them “naive” about the threat posed by Iran’s government.

“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Trump tweeted.

White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersTrump expected to resume rallies in June Andrew Giuliani planning run for New York governor Trump appears at Sarah Huckabee Sanders campaign event MORE Sanders, when asked about plans for Trump’s meeting with Coats and others, simply told The Daily Beast “it was moved.”

Speculation grows about Trump removing Coats

In February, the president’s ongoing clashes with Coats raised speculation among Washington reporters over whether Coats would soon join other Trump officials including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in resigning or being replaced.

“There is a growing sense in the administration that Coats’s days are numbered,” one former official told The Hill at the time.

The news came after former White House Chief of Staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump says Gen. Milley 'last person' he'd want to start a coup with Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill Biden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet MORE resigned, which led some to consider Coats to the "last adult in the room."

Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy also reported that there was “growing disappointment” centered on Coats in the West Wing.

Trump, meanwhile, stated publicly that he had no interest in removing Coats from office.

"I haven’t even thought about it,” he said when asked about Coats’ potential ouster.

Report reveals Pence kept Coats from quitting

A month after reports of Coats’ possible removal circulated Washington, NBC News published a report stating that Coats had nearly resigned just months earlier.

NBC’s report stated that Coats came close to resigning in December of 2018 after the president announced a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move that was publicly opposed by top conservatives in Congress at the time.

But a conversation with Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Noem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event MORE, a former congressman and governor from Indiana, convinced Coats to stay despite NBC’s reporting detailing Coats’ concerns with how seriously the president takes advice from his top intelligence officials.

"I am focused on doing my job,” Coats told NBC at the time.

--Morgan Chalfant and Jacqueline Thomsen contributed to this report.