Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post

Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post
© Greg Nash

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is emerging as a top contender to serve as President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE’s next director of national intelligence (DNI), though several other names have also been floated as possible picks.

Trump praised Hoekstra on Friday, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands and a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, telling reporters that he likes Hoekstra “a lot.”

“I like Pete Hoekstra a lot. He's great. He's doing a fantastic job in the Netherlands right now,” Trump told reporters.

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Still, the president signaled that the decision isn’t final and that he plans to work with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrJuan Williams: Trump, the conspiracy theory president Blood cancer patients deserve equal access to the cure Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security MORE (R-N.C.) and other members of the panel to come up with a strong pick to replace outgoing DNI Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsRemembering leaders who put country above party The Memo: Polling points to warning signs for GOP on Trump Brent Budowsky: Deep Throat's defending our democracy MORE.

The coordination with Senate Republicans comes after Trump caught the upper chamber flat-footed with his earlier announcement that he was selecting Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeGOP searches for impeachment boogeyman Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony Hillicon Valley: Senate passes bill to boost cyber help for agencies, businesses | Watchdog warns Energy Department failing to protect grid | FTC sues Match for allegedly conning users MORE (R-Texas) for the top intelligence role. Ratcliffe, who withdrew from consideration last week, got a tepid response from Republicans and fierce criticism from Democrats who said the president was installing an inexperienced loyalist.

“I want to get someone that everybody can really come together with,” Trump said.

He indicated his pick to serve as acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, could also be in the running.

"Adm. McGuire is a very talented man. He’s a great leader ... he is a man who is respected by everybody, and he’s going to be there for a period of time. Who knows? Maybe he gets the job,” Trump said. “But he'll be there for a period of time. Maybe a longer period of time than we think. We'll see."

The president tapped Maguire, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, to serve as acting DNI on Thursday after Trump made it clear to Sue Gordon, deputy director of national intelligence, that he wants to pick his own interim intelligence official to lead the agency.

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And other names have been floated as possibilities since Ratcliffe dropped out, reportedly including former NSA Director Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Extremists find new home in online app Telegram MORE and former Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE (R-Ga.), who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonBolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Ex-top Trump Russia aide to testify about 'shadow policy' on Ukraine: report Bolton to write memoir on time serving under Trump: report MORE’s former chief of staff, Fred Fleitz, was in the initial pool of candidates being considered for the role and has since been floated as a possible replacement amid the renewed search.

Still, some say Trump is all but decided on Hoesktra.

When asked about the likelihood of Hoekstra becoming the DNI chief, an intelligence source familiar with the discussions replied: “100 percent.”

Hoekstra has both prior experience conducting oversight on intelligence matters and an already established relationship with the president.

Whoever Trump decides to tap next will replace Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana who previously chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Coats is well-respected by both Republican and Democratic senators, and members on both sides of the aisle bristled at the news of the president’s decision to dump one of their own. Democrats in particular quickly voiced concern the president was seeking to install a loyalist in the top intelligence role, which is supposed to be above partisan politics. 

After naming Maguire, Trump indicated he is not in a hurry to pick a permanent director.

"I'm in no rush because we have a great acting [director],” Trump said Friday, adding that he has “a lot of choices. A lot of people want this job." 

And while Hoekstra was confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands in late 2017 by a Senate voice vote, suggesting he was considered an uncontroversial candidate, past remarks of his could come under renewed scrutiny and trigger a tough confirmation battle if he’s tapped for DNI.

CNN reported last year that, during a 2016 conference, Hoekstra repeated a debunked claim that  former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSaagar Enjeti: Tuesday's Democratic debate already 'rigged' against Gabbard, Sanders Ilhan Omar raises .1 million in third quarter Bloomberg rethinking running for president: report MORE's longtime aide Huma Abedin had "egregious" ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hoekstra, who was considered a Tea Party member while in the House, also was previously recorded questioning whether then-President Obama was born in the United States.

Nevertheless, Hoekstra still has some Democrats voicing support, should he be selected.

Rep. Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerHillicon Valley: Senate passes bill to boost cyber help for agencies, businesses | Watchdog warns Energy Department failing to protect grid | FTC sues Match for allegedly conning users Senate approves bill to boost cyber assistance for federal agencies, private sector Maryland state senator denies sending tweet calling Ilhan Omar 'illegal' MORE (D-Md.), a former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, praised his former GOP colleague when asked about the possibility of Hoekstra being appointed as the next DNI.

“I worked closely with Peter and, even though there were some disagreements on our side of the aisle, he ultimately made the decisions that were right for our country in his role as Chairman,” Ruppersberger said in a statement to The Hill.

The office of the DNI was created in the aftermath of 9/11 in an attempt to provide a better intelligence service as the U.S. sought to wage new war against international terrorism.

Now, the DNI serves as a kind of quarterback of the intelligence community, determining where the intelligence community should focus its strategic role in the long term. 

Ruppersberger suggested that Hoekstra is qualified for the role, pointing to his experience overseeing the DNI and other intelligence agencies as a Gang of Eight member.

“I think he’s qualified and, in my opinion, would speak truth to power if it’s necessary to protect the best interest of our country and our national security,” he continued, adding that “anyone who has served on the Gang of Eight understands the need for oversight of the intelligence agencies and the need to work closely with them on behalf of our country.”