Trump again taps Ratcliffe to serve as intelligence chief

President Trump has tapped Rep. John Ratcliffe to serve as his next director of national intelligence (DNI), reviving an appointment of the Texas Republican that previously derailed last year.

“I am pleased to announce the nomination of @RepRatcliffe (Congressman John Ratcliffe) to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI),” Trump tweeted Friday evening. “Would have completed process earlier, but John wanted to wait until after IG Report was finished. John is an outstanding man of great talent!”

Trump had initially appointed Ratcliffe to serve as his intelligence chief in July, but the Texas congressman withdrew from consideration weeks later amid media scrutiny that he padded his résumé as well as bipartisan concerns about his experience.

Still, tapping Ratcliffe a second time suggests Trump is intent on having his House ally take over the helm of the intelligence community.

Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney who sits on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, grew in status and profile within the Republican Party following his skillful questioning of witnesses during the former special counsel Robert Mueller probe and House impeachment investigation.

His questioning also captured the attention and praise of the president.

Trump’s appointment of Ratcliffe to become the permanent DNI comes after he tapped Richard Grenell, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Germany, to hold the role on a temporary basis starting Feb. 20.

But Ratcliffe may still face an uphill confirmation battle.

Senate Democrats hammered Ratcliffe’s nomination the first time, attacking Ratcliffe as a partisan ally of the president with limited national security experience as many Republican senators remained mum.

Some Democrats have already renewed their criticisms.

Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to past concerns in arguing against Ratcliffe’s nomination.

“The last time this nomination was unsuccessfully put forward, serious bipartisan questions were raised about Rep. Ratcliffe’s background and qualifications,” Warner tweeted Friday. “It’s hard for me to see how anything new has happened to change that.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), whose support is key to Ratcliffe successfully getting Senate confirmed, in a statement offered little on his degree of support for the nomination, while stressing the importance of the intelligence community.

“The work our Intelligence Community does is vital for ensuring America’s safety, security, and success. I’ve appreciated the dedication and skill the men and women of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have shown over the last several months during a period of transition,” Burr said in a statement.

“As I’ve said before, however, there is no substitute for having a permanent, Senate-confirmed Director of National Intelligence in place to lead our IC. I look forward to receiving Congressman Ratcliffe’s official nomination and ushering it through the Senate’s regular order,” Burr continued. 

Trump in August blamed the media for Ratcliffe withdrawing his nomination.

“Our great Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media. Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people,” Trump tweeted at the time. “John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country. I will be announcing my nomination for DNI shortly.”

To secure confirmation this time around, Ratcliffe will have to convince senators that he will provide unbiased accounts of the nation’s intelligence. And he will likely have to undergo previous scrutiny about his experience.

Such criticism included a claim he made on a campaign website that as a prosecutor he tried individuals accused of directing money to the Hamas terrorist group, even though he had been involved in working on a separate part of the case related to an initial mistrial.

Other criticism at the time was directed at Ratcliffe’s statements that cast doubt on the credibility of the origins of the Russia investigation. But that line of argument might not be revisited following a sprawling investigation by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz that found 17 “significant errors and omissions” by law enforcement officials in their efforts to obtain a wiretap on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Ratcliffe has been one of the earlier GOP voices calling for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform, a debate that has been recently reignited, particularly as Democrats clash on whether to include reforms.

Ratcliffe, if confirmed, would be the successor to Dan Coats, a former GOP senator from Indiana who served as DNI during the start of the Trump administration.

Some former national security officials have questioned whether Trump is seeking to install Grenell as acting DNI longer than the Federal Vacancies Act allows by naming a successor who would face a tough confirmation battle. Doing so could allow Trump to keep Grenell in the acting role beyond the March 11 deadline.

“Whether intentional or unintentional, the White House may be using the nomination process to keep Grenell in place at least until the elections,” said Ryan Goodman, who served as special counsel at the Department of Defense during the Obama administration.

“Even if someone like Ratcliffe is promptly rejected by the Senate, that would restart the clock, and Grenell could remain in place for at the very least another six months,” Goodman told The Hill on Tuesday.

Updated at 7:08 p.m.

Tags Dan Coats Donald Trump John Ratcliffe Mark Warner Richard Burr Robert Mueller
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