‘He’s a television character’: Democrats worry about Trump’s U.S. intelligence pick

Devin Nunes, another skeptic of U.S. intelligence, called the appointment a ‘great choice’

From left, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Reps. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, and Will Hurd, R-Texas, prepare for testimony by former special counsel Robert Mueller before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in Rayburn Building on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. He testified earlier in the day before the House Judiciary Committee. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated: 5:12 p.m.

Rep. John Ratcliffe, first appointed to the House Intelligence Committee just seven months ago, could soon be delivering the president’s daily intelligence briefings.

Trump announced Ratcliffe’s nomination to lead U.S. intelligence agencies Sunday. But the third-term congressman from Texas already faces questions about his qualifications for the Director of National Intelligence job. He joined the Intelligence panel in January and ranks last among the nine Republicans on it.

[Dan Coats leaving post as Director of National Intelligence]

Ratcliffe delivered an animated cross-examination of former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III in a hearing last week, which was replayed on conservative media outlets, including the president's favorite, Fox News. It stirred fears among Democrats the Texas Republican will be a rubber-stamp for the president.

“I think he’s a television character that the president has watched on TV, and he wants to put somebody in this position who's going to agree with his political take on intelligence,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut in an interview with MSNBC Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Ratcliffe will replace Dan Coats, who resigned Sunday amid public disagreements with the president on Russian malfeasance and the Iranian nuclear deal.  

As a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, Ratcliffe has attempted to discredit the Mueller investigation and questioned the impartiality of the intelligence community, which he would lead as DNI. 

Trump named him to lead U.S. intelligence amid growing momentum on the Democratic side to begin impeachment proceedings.

“It’s clear that Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to President Trump with his demagogic questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said.

“If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and non-partisanship, it would be a big mistake.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware called Ratcliffe a “blind loyalist to the president” in an interview with NPR Monday.

Ratcliffe questioned Mueller about the “Steele dossier,” one of the most prevalent pieces of Republican pushback on the damaging findings unearthed by his 22-month investigation.

Republicans have pointed to the opposition research on Trump prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent, to argue the origins of Mueller’s probe were politically motivated. But the “dossier” did not trigger the Mueller investigation. And campaign finance experts have been quick to point out the distinction between commercial transactions involving foreign nationals and a foreign country offering intelligence with the expectation that the favor will be returned.

Ratcliffe also used his time on the panel last week to question whether Mueller had the jurisdiction to investigate obstruction of justice by the president.

“Congressman Ratcliffe is the most partisan and least qualified individual ever nominated to serve as Director of National Intelligence,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Monday.

“The sum total of his qualifications appears to be his record of promoting Donald Trump's conspiracy theories about the investigation into Russian interference and calling for prosecution of Trump's political enemies,” he said.

“Furthermore, he has endorsed widespread government surveillance and shown little concern for Americans’ rights, except for those of Donald Trump and his close associates,” Wyden continued. 

Ratcliffe and other Republicans have taken issue with the warrant to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But in 2018, Ratcliffe voted to reauthorize FISA, praising it as a “critical law enforcement tool.”

Ratcliffe’s Republican colleagues in the House applauded his appointment. Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes, another frequent critic of the Mueller investigation who has invoked unsubstantiated claims, called the appointment a “great choice.”

Before his election to Congress, Ratcliffe was the mayor of Heath, Texas, a small suburb of Dallas with a population of approximately 7,000 people. A former U.S. attorney, Ratcliffe served as chief of anti-terrorism and national security for the Eastern District of Texas. Like the director of national intelligence job, that post was created after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Niels Lesniewski and Todd Ruger contributed to this report. 

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