Dan Coats announced yesterday that he will resign as Director of National Intelligence. Coats did not see eye-to-eye with President Trump on some important national security issues.
Coats’s replacement will be Rep. John Ratcliffe. He’s a three-term congressman and a former terrorism prosecutor who served as a U.S. Attorney in George W. Bush’s administration. He has also served on the House Intelligence Committee.
In the paper edition of today’s Washington Post, the headline of the story about the change in command refers to Ratcliffe not by name, but simply as a “Trump backer.” Although Ratcliffe is no crony of Trump, he does support the president, including on issues relating to Robert Mueller and his investigation. I assume that, in addition, Ratcliffe’s views on national security matters align more closely with Trump’s than did Coats’s.
No one should be dismayed that Trump’s new Director of National Intelligence supports the president. It would be odd, indeed, for a president knowingly to pick a Director who didn’t.
The Post says that past intelligence directors “have. . .not been such vocal supporters of a president.” This claim is misleading. The precise position to which Ratcliffe has been nominated is a fairly recent creation. Its functional equivalent, more or less, used to be CIA Director.
William Casey was President Reagan’s CIA director. He was a staunch Reagan supporter. Indeed, he managed Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign.
George H.W. Bush was CIA director under President Ford. Bush was a strong supporter of Ford.
The Post also notes that Ratcliffe has no experience in actual intelligence work. However, he does have relevant experience in intel, both as a prosecutor and a congressman. Moreover, the Post concedes that other past intelligence directors also lacked experience in intelligence. Coats is an example. CIA directors with no prior experience in intelligence include John Deutch (under Bill Clinton) and James Schlesinger (under Richard Nixon).
I see one legitimate concern about Ratcliffe’s nomination. In the House, he has focused on getting to the bottom of the role Obama administration officials played in ginning up the false notion that Trump conspired/colluded with the Russians. In doing so, Ratcliffe made a valuable contribution.
However, as Director of National Intelligence, I hope his focus will be forward looking. If confirmed, Ratcliffe’s proper role will be to make sure we have the intelligence and analysis needed to protect our national security. It will not be to look back in time to investigate improper conduct by his predecessors.
The Justice Department is investigating this. In fact, it is conducting several such investigations. Ratcliffe should cooperate with these investigations, of course, but should leave the investigating to the DOJ, which is under the highly-competent, hard-driving leadership of William Barr.
Will Ratcliffe be confirmed? I suspect so, but confirmation is not a foregone conclusion. Sen. Richard Burr, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, reportedly has expressed concern that Ratcliffe is too political for the post.
Ratcliffe will have to allay this concern. One good way to do so is to make it clear that he will leave the investigating of the origins of the Russia collusion hoax to the Justice Department.