Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX)), who has represented his home state’s 4th district in the House since 2015, has been tapped by President Donald Trump for the position of director of national intelligence (DNI). Current DNI Director Dan Coats has submitted his resignation, effective Aug. 15, 2019. Democrats are crying foul over the nomination because Ratcliffe, a staunch conservative, has been one of the president’s toughest defenders against accusations of collusion with Russia during the 2016 election campaign. Does the president’s choice signal a politicization of the intelligence community, or has that horse already bolted?
The resignation of Coats does not appear to be a sudden development. In a letter to the president, the director wrote: “As we have previously discussed, I believe it is time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.” It is no secret, however, that Coats did not always see eye to eye with Trump on questions of national intelligence and security – particularly when it came to the subject of Russian interference in the US political process.
All The President’s Men?
The president has come in for no small amount of criticism for his distrust of the intelligence community, and Democrats see Trump’s choice of a successor to Coats as being purely political. Speaking to MSNBC on July 29, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said of the president’s motives: “[H]e wants to put somebody in this position who’s going to agree with his political take on intelligence.”
It is likely, though, that Trump feels he must fill the position with someone whose loyalties are not in doubt. Given the political nature of the FBI’s 2016 counterintelligence operation – opened to establish whether the president’s campaign was working with the Russian government – it is hard to blame the Commander-in-Chief for his skepticism. Ongoing investigations may well reveal the involvement of the CIA and possibly former President Obama’s DNI, James Clapper, in a coordinated effort to weaken or bring down the Trump presidency with phony accusations of conspiracy with a hostile foreign power.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is not, in itself, an intelligence agency. Its purpose is to facilitate coordination and inter-agency cooperation. Its mission is “to lead intelligence integration and forge an intelligence community that delivers the most insightful intelligence possible.” That any president would appoint somebody to head up that mission who could be trusted not to conspire against the chief executive for political reasons is entirely understandable.
If the US intelligence community has been politicized at all, it is a process that began well before Trump entered the White House. The mere fact that, since leaving office, Clapper – along with former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, and his former deputy, Andrew McCabe – has been very public and very vocal about his contempt for Trump is proof enough that the shadow of political partisanship already hangs over America’s intelligence apparatus.
In light of this fact – as unfortunate as it is – it makes perfect sense that Trump would select a DNI who has demonstrated political kinship. Given the stakes, the president would probably be foolhardy to replace Coats with anyone whose political loyalties were unclear.
For Democrats, An Unnerving Appointment
The choice of Ratcliffe is not at all outside the norm: Trump-appointee Coats himself served in Congress as both a senator and a representative. He is also a former ambassador; he had no more background in intelligence than does Ratcliffe – perhaps less so. Coats served on the Senate Intelligence Committee while Ratcliffe has served on the House Intelligence Committee as well as the Homeland Security and Judiciary committees.
What may concern Democrats the most is that, as DIA, Ratcliffe would be in a position to exert influence over certain intelligence agencies that must now cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation into the origins of the Russia collusion hoax. The Texas congressman is one of several Republicans on the Hill who doggedly has pursued the truth behind what many have described as an attempted coup against Trump. Now that former special counsel Robert Mueller’s part in the Russia affair is over, the investigation of the investigators – championed by Ratcliffe, among others – is set to become, at the very least, a major embarrassment for the president’s enemies. Clearly, this is a nomination to make Democrats nervous.
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