Trump taps Texas Rep. Ratcliffe to replace Dan Coats as top intelligence official
Dan Coats is resigning as President Trump’s director of national intelligence.
Trump on Sunday announced Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) would replace Coats, who is set to leave his position on Aug. 15. The news came hours after reports began to circulate that Coats’s departure was imminent.
The position was expected to be filled by Coats’s deputy, Sue Gordon, in the interim, though Trump added a layer of uncertainty on Sunday by saying he would announce an acting director “shortly.”
“I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence. A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves. Dan Coats, the current Director, will be leaving office on August 15th. I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country. The Acting Director will be named shortly,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets Sunday evening.
I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence. A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves. Dan Coats, the current Director, will….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2019
In his resignation letter to Trump dated Sunday, Coats said he was “grateful” for the opportunity to lead the U.S. intelligence community and noted progress made on election security, security clearances and other issues. He also wrote that he worked to ensure Trump has “the best, most timely, and unbiased intelligence possible.”
“The Intelligence Community is stronger than ever, and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities. As we have previously discussed, I believe it is time for me to move on to the next chapter in my life,” Coats wrote.
Coats has held the role of director of national intelligence for more than two years, shepherding the intelligence community through a crucial period in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His tenure has at times been punctuated by controversy, as his public statements have put him at odds with the president.
Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate in an 85-12 vote in March 2017. He is well-liked and recognized by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, meaning his departure is certain to be met with disappointment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement he was “very sorry” to learn of Coats’s departure.
“I was reassured knowing that a man who took such a deliberate, thoughtful, and unbiased approach was at the helm of our intelligence community,” McConnell said.
“The U.S. intelligence community works best when it is led by professionals who protect its work from political or analytical bias and who deliver unvarnished hard truths to political leaders in both the executive and legislative branches,” he said. “Very often the news these briefings bring is unpleasant, but it is essential that we be confronted with the facts. Dan Coats was such a leader.”
Following the announcement, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also thanked Coats for his service.
“He has been a great advocate for men and women of the Intelligence Community, and a good leader,” Schiff tweeted. “Most important, he has had the independence and strength to speak truth to power.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, similarly tweeted Sunday that Coats spoke “truth to power” during his tenure in the Trump administration.
Coats’s job has been rumored to be in jeopardy at various points during his tenure, including when his public comments have put him at odds with Trump. Several names have been circulated as his possible replacement, including Ratcliffe and Fred Fleitz, national security adviser John Bolton’s former chief of staff who is currently CEO of the Center for Security Policy.
In a statement late Sunday, Ratcliffe described himself as “deeply grateful” for Trump’s nomination to lead the intelligence community and said it was something he couldn’t ignore.
“I look forward to my new role with energy and focus,” Ratcliffe said. “It has been the privilege of my lifetime to be the voice for the people of the Fourth District of Texas over the past five years. I will take their wisdom and common sense with me in my new role, and I will always remember with pride my service to them, and all that we have accomplished together.”
Talk grew that Coats would be dismissed in February, following a public Senate hearing during which he and other intelligence officials undercut Trump’s pronouncements about Iran and North Korea.
Coats is also said to have angered the president with his reaction to a second proposed meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin following last year’s July summit in Helsinki.
“OK. That’s going to be special,” Coats told NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell when she broke the news to him in a live interview that Trump had invited Putin to Washington.
Coats later apologized, calling his response “awkward” and blaming the media for mischaracterizing his reaction.
His departure follows that of other top Trump national security officials such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis and former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor, has at points been rumored as a potential candidate for various jobs in the administration, including attorney general and director of national intelligence. The Texas congressman is a member of both the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees and has become a prominent GOP supporter of Trump on Capitol Hill.
Axios reported earlier Sunday that Trump was impressed by Ratcliffe’s questioning of former special counsel Robert Mueller during high-profile congressional hearings last Wednesday.
Ratcliffe rebuked Mueller’s report during his first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee and suggested he violated Justice Department principles by stating he did not exonerate Trump on allegations of obstruction of justice.
“It was not the special counsel’s job to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or to exonerate him because the bedrock principle of our justice system is presumption of innocence. It exists for everyone,” Ratcliffe said.
Mueller has explained that he did not make a decision one way or another on whether Trump obstructed the Russia investigation because of a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Ratcliffe was also heavily involved in GOP efforts to investigate the FBI’s actions in the early stages of the Russia investigation when Republicans controlled the House in the last Congress.
It is unclear how Ratcliffe’s nomination will be received by the Senate, though his position as a current member of Congress and member of the Intelligence Committee is likely to help his candidacy among Republican senators.
Updated: July 29 at 6:53 a.m.
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