Trump Says He’ll Nominate Loyalist Ratcliffe as Spy Chief
John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Says He’ll Nominate Loyalist Ratcliffe as Spy Chief

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(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he’ll nominate Texas Representative John Ratcliffe to be the next director of national intelligence -- less than a year after Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration for the post when it was last open.

Trump said in a tweet on Friday evening that he would have announced Ratcliffe’s nomination earlier but that the congresssman wanted to wait until an unspecified report by a government inspector general was completed. He didn’t elaborate.

Ratcliffe, a Republican, is a Trump loyalist who was one of his most fervent defenders during the president’s impeachment inquiry last year. If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Ric Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, who was picked to be acting director of national intelligence earlier this month.

Ratcliffe was originally tapped to replace former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last year, but he withdrew from consideration following public scrutiny of his qualifications, and his denunciation of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller at a House hearing.

Coats had been a senator from Indiana and a fixture in the Washington establishment. When he resigned, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a lengthy statement bemoaning the departure of his longtime colleague. In picking the next director, he emphasized the need for U.S. intelligence agencies to be free of political bias and to “deliver unvarnished hard truths” to the nation’s leaders.

Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor, has been a partisan, polarizing figure. During the public impeachment hearings of Trump, several Republicans on the House Judiciary and Intelligence panels often deferred their time to him to question witnesses.

One notable moment was Ratcliffe’s meticulous grilling of U.S Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland after he had testified that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was subject to a “quid pro pro” in return for that country acquiescing to Trump’s demand for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

“You don’t have any direct evidence from President Trump, correct?” Ratcliffe asked, trying to regroup Republicans by pressing on whether Sondland’s testimony was hearsay. “Correct,” Sondland eventually answered under Ratcliffe’s questioning.

Ratcliffe had been an early supporter of the administration’s refusal to participate in the impeachment investigation, frequently appearing on television to argue Democrats weren’t providing due process and were violating the Constitution.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, reacting to Trump’s announcement on Friday, said in a statement that “at a time when the Russians are interfering in our elections, we need a nonpartisan leader at the helm of the intelligence community who sees the world objectively and speaks truth to power, and unfortunately neither Acting Director Grenell nor Representative Ratcliffe comes even close to that.”

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, tweeted that “the last time this nomination was unsuccessfully put forward, serious bipartisan questions were raised about Rep. Ratcliffe’s background and qualifications. It’s hard for me to see how anything new has happened to change that.”

If the confirmation process for Ratcliffe drags out, Grenell can stay on indefinitely as long as a nomination has been made.

Congress created the DNI position after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to coordinate the activities of American intelligence agencies. It’s a cabinet-level job that leads the U.S. intelligence community -- 17 organizations which include the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office. One of its key responsibilities is assembling the president’s regular intelligence briefings.

Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community has been fraught since his election after he rejected official findings that Russia had interfered on his behalf. He has routinely attacked the intelligence agencies, claiming that they were led by people biased against him. The president’s supporters have argued that the intelligence community is rife with members of a “deep state” intent on undermining him.

During FBI and Justice Department investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Ratcliffe proved an ardent defender of the president by raising questions about alleged anti-Trump bias in the origins of the inquiries. Ratcliffe aggressively questioned Mueller during his appearance before the Judiciary Committee in July.

“You wrote 180 pages -- 180 pages! -- about decisions that weren’t reached, about potential crimes that weren’t charged,” Ratcliffe told Mueller. “By doing that you managed to violate every principle and the most sacred tradition about prosecutors not offering extra-prosecutorial analysis about potential crimes not charged.”

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