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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 TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump 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 BurrNorth Carolina — still purple but up for grabs North Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid Lara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report 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 CoatsBiden soars as leader of the free world Lobbying world President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him 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 RatcliffeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers Biden considering King for director of national intelligence: report Haspel not in attendance at latest Trump intelligence briefing: reports 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 RogersFormer GOP congressman calls for Biden to receive presidential briefings Democrats slam DHS chief for defying subpoena for testimony on worldwide threats Remembering 9/11 as we evaluate today's emerging threats MORE and former Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissFight for Senate majority boils down to Georgia Lobbying world GOP lobbyist tapped for White House legislative affairs MORE (R-Ga.), who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Bolton calls on GOP leadership to label Trump's behavior 'inexcusable' 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 ClintonBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Katko fends off Democratic opponent in New York race Harris County GOP chairman who made racist Facebook post resigns 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: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments House approves legislation to send cybersecurity resources to state, local governments Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations 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.”