Photo of Congressman John Ratcliffe, Trump's nominee for the Director of National Intelligence post.

Donald Trump Moves To Replace Respected Intel Chief With Political Hack John Ratcliffe

by Richard Cameron


Donald Trump is intent on putting forth a partisan flunky as a replacement for a respected, accomplished, credible man – Dan Coats, who has resigned in frustration and will be leaving the post the middle of August.

Trump is planning to submit to the Senate, the nomination of Congressman John Ratcliffe (R-TX) as Director of National Intelligence.

What’s behind this move? For many observers of America’s intelligence operations, the pushing out of Coats, has chiefly to do with Coats refusing to advance a sequence of stories that provided Trump with political cover. He won’t be the first. We reported on how former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson became expendable to Trump when he failed to confirm Trump’s assertions.

National Compass has frequently reported on Trump’s failed and foolish engagements with North Korea’s national dictator, Kim Jong-un, who has consistently rendered Trump’s premature and self serving proclamations that he has negotiated a lessening of the existential risk of a nuclear armed state bordering our allies and threatening Japan as fictional fodder to his credulous base. 

Coats contradicted Trump’s fables following the Singapore summit, when he said in a Senate hearing that, “We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”

Director Coats also rankled Trump by declining to play along with Trump’s absurd denials about Russia’s interference with the 2016 Presidential election.

You will recall that in a press conference following his secret meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Trump dismissed the warnings and reports of the American intelligence experts in favor of Putin’s assurances, saying, “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

At the time, Trump’s comment was assessed as a response to Coats’ earlier statement that, “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

Another instance of Coats not backing Trump’s ignorant comments as Commander-in-Chief, was when Trump tweeted, “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Trump would have expected Coats to either remain mum or certainly not undermine his assessment of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement which commenced during the administration of Barack Obama. Instead Coats told senators that, “We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

Dan Coats had strong fundamentals for the job that Trump originally nominated him to – a reputation for objectivity and loyalty to his oath of office as a member of Congress. While he had no direct, personal experience with intelligence work, he at least had a background of service in the Army, service as an Ambassador to Germany, a deep understanding of the role of America’s intelligence architecture plus work as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee for close to a decade.

What about Ratcliffe? He simply has none of the requisites objectively sought after in an incredibly consequential role such as Director of National Intelligence. While Donald Trump sees in Ratcliffe, the right stuff – national security experts see the wrong stuff. 

Harvard Professor Juliette Kayyem, whose subject matter specialization is in national security, told CNN’s John Berman that, “Ratcliffe has no business being nominated. He is unqualified in every aspect for this position except for one, and that is his skepticism about Russian influence and election meddling (that) he’s made his cause célèbre over the last year.”

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, who knows Dan Coats as well or better than anyone who has worked for him, provides an overview of the job description that Ratcliffe has no preparation for:

The mandate of the Office of the DNI is relatively weak. It does not steal secrets or conduct covert actions. It coordinates intelligence collection from across the U.S. government, looks for patterns that constitute threats, and provides information to people who need it. Much of the DNI’s influence depends on building collegial relationships with agency directors, and raising internal and external awareness of gathering challenges.

John Ratcliff, Trump's nominee as replacement for current Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats.
John Ratcliff, Trump’s nominee as replacement for current Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats.

What does Ratcliffe bring to the table? Ratcliff, until 5 years ago, was a lawyer and a mayor of Heath, Texas, a town of 8,953 population and has sat on the House Intelligence Committee for all of 5 months. That’s it, even though the law governing the qualifications of the job he is being proposed for specifically requires,”extensive national security expertise”.

Well, that’s it, unless you consider his aggressive assault on Robert Mueller during last week’s hearings on the former special counsel’s report. Ratcliffe’s line of questioning (or, more accurately, his diatribe), was found to be entirely defective by Politifact. That made Ratcliffe a slam dunk for Donald Trump, no matter his lack of experience in the intelligence field.

Ratcliffe’s brief tenure as a federal prosecutor led him to tout a ludicrous claim that he, “arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day” – a physical impossibility although that poses no logical roadblocks for Trump’s voters. Ratcliff also is an exponent of preposterous conspiracy theories which make the very intelligence community he will act as a clearinghouse for, the antagonists rather than the protagonists. 

Douglas Wise, former C.I.A. officer and deputy head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told reporters Trump’s pick could pose an “existential threat” to the 16 departments under the canopy of DNI. “Intelligence has to be candid, truthful and accurate even if it is unpleasant and does not confirm to the biases of the president.”

Senator Richard M. Burr (R-NC) Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is reported to have told colleagues that Ratcliffe is too politically oriented, lacking the objectivity needed to fulfill the serious role of DNI.

As a contrast to the political orientation of Ratcliffe, outgoing Director Coats related to journalists that as the newly confirmed head of DNI, he “took a big gulp of breath” and took Trump aside. “I said, ‘There are many times I’ll be walking in here and bringing you information you might not want to hear or information you wish was different. And I’m going to—I just need to tell you my job is to give you the basic intelligence. You don’t have to agree with it. You can ask for more information, but we have to have the kind of relationship that we can be open with each other.’”

And we now know that is the last thing Trump wanted. Trump merely wanted an echo. He didn’t get it and now Coats becomes the latest in a long string of qualified men who have refused to ratify Trump’s false narratives about the threats that face America and have been sent packing by him as a consequence. 

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