National Security

Talk grows that Trump will fire Dan Coats

Some close to the White House believe that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats may soon be ousted as President Trump’s top intelligence official, a move that would draw ire from Capitol Hill and likely raise new concerns about the administration’s national security apparatus.

The latest speculation around Coats’s potential dismissal comes just weeks after the director of national intelligence (DNI) testified in a high-profile congressional hearing that North Korea is “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons” amid talks between Trump and the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

{mosads}Longtime Trump confidant Christopher Ruddy this week raised the possibility the president could remove Coats from his post, asserting in a CNN interview that there is “general disappointment” with him at the White House, and that he overstepped his bounds by trying to “make policy and not inform policy.”

A former Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Hill, “There is a growing sense in the administration that Coats’s days are numbered.”

When asked by a reporter Tuesday if he had any plans to replace Coats, Trump said, “I haven’t even thought about it.”

Any effort by Trump to fire Coats would likely to spark a fury of criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where the former Republican senator from Indiana is widely respected. Coats has long been viewed as a steady force in the administration and has outlasted other top national security officials whose departures have been a source of controversy.

“You would certainly see a lot of Hill Republicans, especially on the Senate side, be critical of the decision,” said Doug Heye, former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

But he doubted that such a move would change the “fundamental dynamics” between Trump and Congress.

{mossecondads}A former Senate aide described Coats as “a known quantity and well respected by members on both sides of the aisle.”

“There is a level of trust that has been established particularly with the members on the [Senate Intelligence Committee] and key staff that it would be hard to identify who else would have that sort of rapport and trust,” the former aide added.

The White House has remained silent amid talk that Coats might be fired, and there are no outward signs that Trump plans to make a move against him.

However, The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that Trump is considering removing him, having grown frustrated with his public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which the president viewed as undercutting his foreign policy positions.

Some lawmakers are coming to Coats’s defense.

“DNI Dan Coats is a good friend, former Senate colleague, and leader of integrity who has always served our country well,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning. “We are fortunate to have a person of his ability and candor to lead our intelligence community.”

When asked about Ruddy’s comments, a spokesman for the Intel committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), said: “Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have confidence in Dan Coats, and the president should, too.”

Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks administration departures, said top White House advisers will likely urge Trump against dismissing Coats, over concerns it would spark another conflict with Senate Republicans.

His departure “would affect a lot of Republicans kind of on the fence with Trump and still trying to stick with him,” Tenpas said, suggesting the intelligence chief’s exit could be the tipping point for Republicans who are already wary of the president’s foreign policy moves.

Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray made headlines last month with their congressional testimony on global threats, in particular because their statements appeared to conflict with Trump’s policy agenda.

The U.S. intelligence community’s threat assessment, which was released on the day of their Senate testimony, found that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons, that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still remained a significant threat in Syria and that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize — conclusions that aren’t aligned with Trump’s foreign policy remarks.

Trump initially lashed out at the intelligence chiefs over their testimony, tweeting that he would be proven right and that they “should go back to school!” He later revised those comments after an Oval Office meeting with Coats and Haspel, insisting they said the media misconstrued their testimony.

This is not the first time questions have been raised about Coats’s future in the administration. Trump was reportedly furious over the director’s reaction to a second proposed meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin following July’s summit in Helsinki.

“OK. That’s going to be special,” Coats told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News when she broke the news to him in a live interview that Trump had invited Putin to Washington.

Later, Coats publicly apologized for his “awkward” reaction, saying the press had “mischaracterized” his response and that it was not meant to “be disrespectful or criticize” Trump.

Even after last month’s clash appeared to be resolved, the spotlight was back on Coats, one of the few remaining original members of an administration that has seen substantial turnover in its national security team, most recently with the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Ruddy is among those who argue Coats both overstepped and undermined the president’s policies with his congressional testimony last month.

“I think you have a classic example here where Director Coats is trying to make policy and not inform policy,” Ruddy told CNN on Monday, a day after he was spotted dining with Trump in Palm Beach, Fla. “The purpose of intelligence is to give the president the facts, let him decide and make the decisions — not to publicly declare that his policies are going to fail a week before he goes over to North Korea on this very important summit.”

Ruddy, who is CEO of Newsmax, added that he hadn’t heard from Trump about his plans, but said “sources around the White House” spoke of “deep concern” about Coats’s testimony.

Others worry about the calculus behind any move to fire Coats.

“If Coats is getting canned simply because of his sobriety then I think it sends a very troubling signal,” said one former Trump White House official. “The big fear is that Trump might give away the store so he can declare victory and such a move is not in the national security interest of the [United States].”

Eric Brewer, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security who worked as an intelligence official mostly during the Obama administration, said it is not unusual for the intelligence community’s findings to be at odds with the desires of policymakers.

But he said that during this administration, and with a president who often prefers appointees whose views are in line with his, there may be more tension between the White House and apolitical intelligence officials.

“I think there’s going to be a natural tension that exists in those relationships,” Brewer said. “But some personalities get along better than others.”

Updated at 2:39 p.m.

Tags Dan Coats Donald Trump James Mattis Mark Warner Susan Collins

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