From Congress to Spy Chief: Senate Confirms Ratcliffe Posting

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing on May 5. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate confirmed Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe to serve as director of national intelligence Thursday, ending a nine-month nomination saga for the staunch Trump ally. 

Ratcliffe’s path to this afternoon’s 49-44 vote installing him as the nation’s top spy chief has been a winding one.

President Donald Trump first announced the three-term Republican as his choice for the position at the end of July, shortly after Ratcliffe garnered significant attention for his grilling of former special counsel Robert Mueller during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. 

Amid skepticism from lawmakers about Ratcliffe’s qualifications — as well as allegations that he embellished his resume — however, Ratcliffe withdrew in the beginning of August.

In the meantime, Joseph Maguire and Richard Grenell have led the intelligence community in acting capacities, and Ratcliffe has continued his ardent support of the president as both a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the House’s push to impeach Trump and later as a member of his defense team during the Senate trial.  

Trump renominated Ratcliffe in February, starting a confirmation process that proved considerably smoother in the second go-around. At his nomination hearing earlier this month, Ratcliffe told senators he would be apolitical and above influence from the White House.

“Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence will not be altered or impacted as a result of outside influence,” Ratcliffe said at his nomination hearing. “My fidelity and loyalty will always be with the Constitution and the rule of law and my actions as DNI will reflect that commitment.” 

But Democrats, who uniformly voted against his confirmation Thursday, did not buy those assurances. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that, in a phone call earlier this week, Ratcliffe would not stipulate that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s chance, nor would he commit to briefings Congress every two weeks on foreign efforts to interfere in future elections. 

“Mr. Ratcliffe unfortunately has not demonstrated the qualities nor the independence that we should expect of the next leader of the intelligence community,” Schumer said in a floor speech Thursday. 

In supporting the nomination, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Ratcliffe will serve well in the position. 

“John Ratcliffe will lead the intelligence community in countering threats from great powers, rogue nations and terrorist and ensuring that work is untainted by political bias,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. 

Ratcliffe’s confirmation comes at a time of increased focus from Democrats on Trump’s influence on the intelligence community, which the president has repeatedly and publicly criticized. 

Last week, Grenell released a declassified list of Obama administration officials who requested to “unmask” the identity of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn in intelligence documents.

Trump has used the unmasking requests, a relatively routine procedure that allows senior government officials to see the identity of U.S. citizens whose conversations are caught up in the monitoring of foreign sources, to claim the Obama administration was targeting his incoming administration. 

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about phone calls he had with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but the Justice Department has moved to drop the case. 

While many Republicans have praised the declassification, critics, including congressional Democrats, have pointed to it as an example of Trump using intelligence materials for political advantage in the leadup to the 2020 election.

One of the chief concerns that sunk his first pass at the job was that Ratcliffe overstated his role in a high-profile terrorism funding prosecution against the Holy Land Foundation, a charity convicted in 2009 of funneling money to Hamas. 

Though the former prosecutor has said “he convicted” people in the trial, The New York Times reported in July that Ratcliffe was brought on to look into an earlier mistrial in the case, not as a main member of the trial team

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