Trump Pick for National Intelligence Director Sparks Recoil

WASHINGTON (CN) – Tapped for Cabinet-level office after his conspicuous criticism of former special counsel Robert Mueller, Representative John Ratcliffe sparked scrutiny this week about his fitness to serve as national intelligence director.

“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,” Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and non-partisanship, it would be a big mistake.”

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, is pictured last week at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee where former special counsel Robert Mueller discussed his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. President Donald Trump tapped Ratcliffe on Sunday to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who is leaving his job next month. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Schumer released the statement Sunday after Trump announced in a tweet that afternoon that he was picking Ratcliffe to replace outgoing director Dan Coats.

Days earlier, when Mueller appeared before the House to testify about the findings of his two-year investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Ratcliffe had been among the special counsel’s most outspoken Republican critics.

As Democrats grilled Mueller on the evidence suggesting that Trump had obstructed justice, Ratcliffe argued that the section of Mueller’s report devoted to the president amounted to improper “prosecutorial commentary.”

“So Americans need to know this as they listen to the Democrats and socialists on the other side of the aisle, as they do dramatic readings from this report, that Volume II of this report was not authorized under the law to be written,” said Ratcliffe, who has represented the 4th District of Texas in Congress since 2015.

A former federal prosecutor himself, Ratcliffe has a long track record of jumping to Trump’s defense and interrogating members of the intelligence community.

In 2018, as the president insisted that he faced institutional bias from the FBI, Ratcliffe made now-disproven claims that former FBI attorney Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok had texted each other about a supposed anti-Trump “secret society.”

A former mayor of Heath, Texas, Ratcliffe also served in the Bush administration as chief of Anti-Terrorism and National Security for the Eastern District of Texas.

His time in Congress has included membership on the House Intelligence, Ethics, Homeland Security and Judiciary committees. Ratcliffe is the ranking Republican member for the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, and he also sits on the Subcommittees on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation and Transportation and Maritime Security.

When asked Tuesday if Ratcliffe is qualified for the position, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he has not yet met with the nominee and would like to reserve judgment until doing so.  

“We’ll go through the confirmation process and, generally speaking, I would lean toward the president’s nominees, and I would rather not address that until I’ve actually had a chance to meet him and discuss his background and qualifications,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Representative Mike Rogers, R-Ala., released a statement Sunday where he called Ratcliffe “an excellent pick to be director of national intelligence.”

Coats, the outgoing director, tendered his resignation earlier Sunday. Though the longtime diplomat described his career on Trump’s national security team as a “distinct privilege,” The New York Times reported that Coats’ relationship with the president has often been strained.

Most recently, Coats had reportedly seen warnings about the White House suppressing Russian intelligence threats and even altering some findings to use less critical language.

McConnell made no mention of Ratcliffe in his statement Sunday that praised Coats’ work.

“Our understanding of the threat and our coordinated defenses are light years ahead of where we were in 2016. That is thanks to the hard work of Director Coats and countless intelligence professionals,” McConnell said. “The intelligence community’s great leaps since 2016 laid the groundwork for the administration’s significant progress in defending against interference in 2018 and preparing us for 2020.”

Ratcliffe’s only public comment on his nomination appeared in a series of tweets Sunday night.

“I look forward to my new role with energy and focus,” Ratcliffe said.

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