GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post

GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post
© Greg Nash

Republicans are moving quickly on Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show READ: Newly declassified transcripts of Flynn calls with Russia ambassador Intel chief Ratcliffe declassifies transcripts of Flynn calls MORE’s (R-Texas) nomination to be director of national intelligence after a bungled rollout last year ended with Ratcliffe withdrawing from consideration.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, has already slowed the confirmation process somewhat.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrFISA 'reform': Groundhog Day edition Rubio: Coronavirus conspiracy theories could be used in foreign election misinformation campaigns Justice Department closing stock investigations into Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein MORE (R-N.C.) had initially hoped for a confirmation hearing in the first two weeks of April and a final committee vote in early May. The Senate is out until April 20, so hearings and votes will have to wait until the end of next month at the earliest.

ADVERTISEMENT

Behind the scenes, legislative affairs officials at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have been scheduling calls between Ratcliffe, who is at home in Texas, and Senate Intelligence Committee members.

At the urging of Burr, Ratcliffe submitted his FBI background check, financial disclosures and Senate questionnaire ahead of deadline, sources familiar tell The Hill.

There is an urgency in the Senate to fill the Cabinet-level position that has been open since Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsGerman lawmaker, US ambassador to Germany trade jabs Intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to improve communication with Trump: report Senate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief MORE stepped down in August. Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is not a popular figure in the Senate, and he’s made plain to allies that he does not want to be in the role for an extended period of time.

Ratcliffe’s nomination is a priority for President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE and national security adviser Robert O’Brien -- both signed off on re-nominating Ratcliffe under the impression that he would be confirmed quickly. Burr assured the White House that Ratcliffe would get the Senate support he needed before Trump re-nominated him, according to a senior intelligence official.

“Sen. Burr has been supportive and helpful throughout and there’s been an urgency with respect to moving this forward,” said one Capitol Hill source involved in the confirmation process. “It’s a priority for the president and the comments we’ve been getting indicate that everyone feels like having a permanent DNI confirmed by the Senate should be a high priority.”

Burr is a key figure in the confirmation process and he’s facing pressure from conservatives to push Ratcliffe through quickly.

The North Carolina Republican infuriated many on the right for issuing a subpoena to Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., compelling him to testify about the Russia investigation after a tense, months-long standoff last year.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s led to lingering bad blood between Burr and top Trump allies. Many on the right are watching closely to see how Burr handles the Ratcliffe nomination.

For now, though, they’re holding their fire.

“Congressman Ratcliffe will make a terrific Director of National Intelligence and should be swiftly confirmed by the Senate,” Trump Jr. told The Hill in a statement.

Adding to the pressure on Burr is the controversy surrounding him over allegations he sold off his stock portfolio before the recent market crash based on information gleaned from confidential briefings on the coronavirus.

Burr denies that he traded on insider information, saying that he follows the markets closely and identified the coronavirus as a potentially economy-wrecking threat from public reports.

There have been calls for Burr to resign, with some pointing to daily briefings he received on the pandemic. But many of his critics on the right have been conspicuously quiet as Ratcliffe’s nomination proceeds.

“The only reason he hasn’t been thrown to the wolves is because we need him to get Ratcliffe through,” said one Republican with close ties to the White House.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities MORE (R-Maine) will be a member to watch in the Intelligence Committee hearings, as her crucial swing vote could determine whether Ratcliffe is sent to the Senate for confirmation with a favorable or unfavorable recommendation.

Collins faces a tough reelection fight in 2020 and every vote she takes will be scrutinized or used as political ammunition by her opponents.

Collins’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Ratcliffe, meanwhile, is hunkered down preparing his defense. He has his work cut out for him.

Democrats have cast him as too political and too inexperienced, while questioning past claims about his involvement in prosecuting terrorists as part of the Justice Department.

Ratcliffe’s initial run for the job last year was an unmitigated disaster.

The reception from GOP senators was chilly, as some had hoped Trump would nominate Sue Gordon, the principal deputy director of national intelligence at ODNI.

Ratcliffe knew the White House was considering him for the role, but he and his staff were caught off guard when Trump unexpectedly tweeted his intention to nominate him. 

That announcement set off a string of attacks from Democrats and a flood of negative news stories that Ratcliffe and his office were unprepared to deal with at the time.

They believe they’re ready now.

One argument they intend to dispel is that Ratcliffe is a Trump “loyalist.”

Trump first nominated Ratcliffe in 2019 only days after the Texas Republican went viral on the right for his aggressive questioning of Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE, leading to a flood of stories about Ratcliffe being a Trump “loyalist.”

Ratcliffe is supportive of Trump and his agenda and believes both Mueller and the Intelligence Community overstepped at various points in the Russia saga.

However, Ratcliffe’s allies plan to make the case that it’s unfair to characterize him as a sycophant, noting he did not have much of a relationship with Trump before his nomination and never had a one-on-one conversation with the president until summer 2019.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ratcliffe’s allies plan to make the case that it’s unfair to characterize him that way, noting that he did not have much of a relationship with Trump before his nomination and never had a one-on-one conversation with the president until summer 2019.

Ratcliffe represents a northeast Texas district that is one of the most conservative in the country, yet his allies note that he does not have a reputation as a conservative bomb-thrower and never joined the right-wing Freedom Caucus. 

On the question of experience, Ratcliffe will talk about how he was appointed by former President George W. Bush to serve as chief of anti-terrorism and national security for the Eastern District of Texas. He later became the U.S. attorney for the district, and Ratcliffe will have former colleagues speak to how he performed his duties in an apolitical manner.

The Texas Republican has been involved with legislation for national security, cyber and intelligence issues on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and he’s expected to point to bills he spearheaded during both the Trump and Obama administrations that were signed into law.

Ratcliffe has also been accused of overstating his involvement in prosecuting one terror case, which led to several other accusations that he had pumped up his resume.

In that case, Ratcliffe has acknowledged that he did not “put terrorists in prison,” as his campaign website once claimed, but rather he was appointed on the backend to research how the case resulted in a mistrial.

Ratcliffe’s team has spent the past few weeks pulling together Department of Justice (DOJ) records and old media reports they say will prove his involvement in other high-level terrorism cases that have been called into question.

ADVERTISEMENT

They’re telling lawmakers that most of what they might have heard about his lack of experience or about how he’s overstated his involvement in terror cases is untrue.

Republicans control 53 seats in the Senate and Ratcliffe needs at least 50 votes to be confirmed. Administration officials are confident he’s on the right path. 

“The idea that you’re not supposed to have a loyalist in your own Cabinet is ridiculous,” said the senior intelligence official. “And it’s simply disingenuous to say Ratcliffe, who has been dealing with these issues at DOJ and on the House Intelligence committee, doesn’t have enough experience.”