Senate panel advances Trump's intelligence director pick

Senate panel advances Trump's intelligence director pick
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The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday afternoon voted 13-2 to advance the nomination of former Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Dems zero in on Trump and Russia National security center launches program to help US firms guard against foreign hackers MORE (R-Ind.) to be President Trump's director of national intelligence (DNI).

Coats, a former member of the panel, is liked by his colleagues and is expected to sail through to a final confirmation vote.

In a genial confirmation hearing late last month, the only major concern committee members repeatedly raised was that Coats might be too nice for the job.

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But the vote came at a moment of intense scrutiny of the Trump administration’s handling of national security, while the intelligence community and multiple lawmakers expressed concern that Coats would be hamstrung by a limited role in Trump’s national security apparatus.

In an executive memorandum last month, Trump reshuffled the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, elevating his controversial political adviser, Stephen Bannon, and apparently de-emphasizing the role of the DNI. Under that order, Coats would only attend meetings when issues pertinent to his responsibilities are discussed.

“I have been reassured time and time and time again by the president and his advisers that I am welcome and needed and expected to be part of the Principal’s Committee,” Coats said during his hearing.

He told lawmakers the administration told him that demoting the DNI was never the “intent” of the order, the language of which they had merely copied from a similar George W. Bush-era memorandum.

Coats also sought to reassure lawmakers that he would speak truth to power if confirmed, amid ongoing concerns about politicization of intelligence within the administration. He further vowed to work with the committee in its investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

“In this new role, it will be my responsibility to present the president, senior policymakers and the Congress with the best and most objective, nonpolitical and timely intelligence,” Coats said during his opening statement, placing the emphasis on the word “nonpolitical.”

“The president and I have discussed my potential role as his principal intelligence adviser, and we both recognize that this position is frequently the bearer of unpleasant news.”

A former ambassador to Germany under Bush, Coats served in the Senate twice — from 1989 to 1999, and again from 2011 until last year.

Coats will have to be approved by the full Senate after the committee vote.