Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is leaving his job, and President Trump plans to nominate as his replacement a Texas congressman who defended the president against the special counsel’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice during last week’s Robert Mueller hearings.
“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,” Trump tweeted today. “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.”
Coats, a former ambassador to Germany and Indiana senator for one term, began his term at ODNI in March 2017. He has reportedly repeatedly irked the administration by publicly contradicting Trump on the intelligence community’s assessments, such as noting that North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons program and that Iran had been complying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or P5+1 nuclear deal.
“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Trump tweeted in response in January regarding Iran.
When Coats was surprised with the news onstage at last year’s Aspen Security Forum that Trump had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House, he famously quipped, “OK; that’s going to be special.”
After reports accelerated this month that Trump was unhappy with Coats and looking to replace him, Coats announced the appointment of Shelby Pierson in the new role of Intelligence Community Election Threats Executive.
“Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority for the IC,” said Coats. “In order to build on our successful approach to the 2018 elections, the IC must properly align its resources to bring the strongest level of support to this critical issue.”
In his resignation letter, Coats lauded the IC as “stronger than ever” before saying he was going to “move on to the next chapter of my life.”
“I have overseen the selection of new, extremely capable leaders across the IC” who “have transformed its focus, structure, and integration efforts to ensure you have the best, most timely, and unbiased intelligence possible,” he added.
“The mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power. As DNI, Dan Coats stayed true to that mission,” tweeted Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.). “Thank you for your service, Director Coats.”
Ratcliffe, the former mayor of Heath, Texas, served a year as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas during the George W. Bush administration. He has served as congressman for the 4th District in Texas, northeast of Dallas, since 2015.
A lawyer by trade who worked in private practice, Ratcliffe has no experience working in the intelligence community. Trump reportedly considered him for the role of attorney general last year.
As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Ratcliffe pressed Mueller on the Steele dossier — raw intelligence compiled by a former MI6 officer during the 2016 election, first at the behest of a GOP entity and then by the Clinton campaign. “I want to find out if Russia interfered with our election by providing false information through sources to Christopher Steele about a Trump conspiracy that you determined didn’t exist,” Ratcliffe said.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last year that “some of what was in the dossier was actually corroborated — but separately — in our intelligence community assessment, from other sources that we were confident in.” The “salacious parts” have “never been corroborated,” he added. “It would appear to me that as time has gone on more and more of it has been corroborated, but I can’t actually give you a percentage.”
Ratcliffe also took issue at the hearing with surveillance applications that were submitted to determine the extent of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page’s Russia ties. Mueller told Ratcliffe that the congressman was dipping into “part of another matter that is being handled by the Department of Justice.”
Ratcliffe also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, where he also questioned Mueller in that separate hearing and took issue with Mueller’s statement that the president had not been exonerated of potential obstruction of justice by the special counsel’s investigation — a conclusion that has angered Trump, as expressed on his Twitter feed.
“Which DOJ policy or principle set forth a legal standard that an investigated person is not exonerated if their innocence from criminal conduct is not conclusively determined? What is that language come from, director? Where is the DOJ policy that says that?” Ratcliffe said.
Mueller explained that “this is a unique situation” since he was operating under DOJ policy that said a sitting president could not be charged with a crime.
“You wrote 180 pages, 180 pages about decisions that weren’t reached, about potential crimes that were charged or decided,” Ratcliffe said of the report’s explanation of 10 “discrete acts” examined by Mueller’s team as potential obstruction of justice by Trump. “And respectfully, respectfully, by doing that, you manage to violate every principle and the most sacred of traditions about prosecutors not offering extra prosecutorial analysis about potential crimes that aren’t charged.”