White House

Dan Coats leaving post as Director of National Intelligence

Trump says he will appoint Texas Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe as Coats’ replacement

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will be leaving his position. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Dan Coats is leaving the post as Director of National Intelligence on August 15, President Donald Trump announced Sunday.

“I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country. The Acting Director will be named shortly,” Trump tweeted.

Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican who serves on the House Intelligence Committee but has less experience than Coats or previous national intelligence directors in that role, is Trump’s choice to be nominated to be the next DNI.

“I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence,” Trump tweeted. “A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves.”

Multiple reports said  Trump had been talking up Ratcliffe as a possible replacement for Coats in recent weeks, and the announcement of his pending departure came as no surprise.

Coats, a former senator from Indiana and ambassador to Germany, was long viewed as a steady hand, particularly by Republican senators concerned about the Trump administration’s foreign policy. He served on the Intelligence Committee during his time in the Senate and had good professional relationships with members of both parties.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Coats in a statement. “The U.S. intelligence community works best when it is led by professionals who protect its work from political or analytical bias and who deliver unvarnished hard truths to political leaders in both the executive and legislative branches. Very often the news these briefings bring is unpleasant, but it is essential that we be confronted with the facts. Dan Coats was such a leader,” he said.

Senate retiree turned intel chief

When Coats announced his plan to not seek re-election to his Senate seat, it was expected that he would retire from government service after a decades-long career that included two separate stints as an Indiana senator, but following Trump’s victory in 2016, Coats was approached about the DNI job.

Coats’ confirmation vote in March of 2017 was among the least contentious for a Trump cabinet-level official, with his former colleagues voting to confirm him, 85-12.

As intelligence chief, Coats seemed to pick his spots to make public displays of disagreement with the president and others in the administration. He took steps to ensure the U.S. intelligence community was working against Russian malfeasance even as Trump was striking a much more conciliatory tone.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable moments in Coats’ tenure came in a July 2018 interview at the Aspen Security Forum.

Coats was informed on stage by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News that a White House tweet had just announced a meeting in Washington with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Say that again?" Coats replied after a pause, and laughed.

Coats was informed on stage by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News that a White House tweet announced a meeting in Washington with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the DNI was not aware of.

That wasn’t the only thing about which the well-respected Coats was unaware ⁠— he also admitted he did not know much about the details of the first summit between Trump and Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

“I don’t know what happened in that meeting. I think as time goes by and President has already mentioned some things that happened in that meeting, I think we will learn more. But that is the president’s prerogative,” Coats said. “He had asked me how that ought to be conducted. I would have suggested a different way. But that’s not my role. That’s not my job. So, it is what it is.”

Ratcliffe, now in his third term in Congress, may face questions about his qualifications for the DNI job. He joined the Intelligence panel in January and ranks last among the nine Republicans on it. He did, however, lead a Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity when Republicans controlled the chamber during his first two terms.

While his Texas seat is safely in the GOP column, Ratcliffe’s potential departure from Congress will also open up another role, as he has served as the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee’s inquiry into the conduct of California Republican Rep. Duncan D. Hunter.

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