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Senate Confirms Ratcliffe as National Intelligence Chief

May 21, 2020 by Dan McCue
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee during his nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday confirmed Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence, placing him at the head of several agencies from which President Donald Trump jettisoned official after official.

The last Senate-confirmed director of national intelligence, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, left the post last July after clashing with Trump.

Ratcliffe will replace Richard Grenell, the current acting director who has overseen many of the personnel changes.

The nomination — announced via Twitter — reportedly surprised White House aides, who thought the three-term congressman was in the running for a different position.

Ratcliffe’s road to his new position was a rocky one. He withdrew his name from consideration just a week after Trump initially selected him when several colleagues questioned the Texas Republican’s qualifications. 

Key Republicans described Ratcliffe as one of the least involved members of the House Intelligence Committee, and as having exaggerated his role in terrorism and immigration cases.

That led to Grenell getting the job temporarily, and actually freed up Ratcliffe to be part of Trump’s legal team during his impeachment trial.

In February, after his acquittal in the Senate, Trump again nominated Ratcliffe to the top intelligence post, ignoring detractors on both sides of the aisle.

During an extraordinary spring marked by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, GOP senators warmed to Ratcliffe, coming to see him as a potential source of stability in the administration.

Democrats allowed for a speedy vote on the nomination in a mostly deserted U.S. Capitol building, but nevertheless opposed him.

In the end, the vote in the Senate chamber where Centers of Disease Control coronavirus recommendations were closely followed, was 49-44.

That made Ratcliffe the first director of national intelligence not to win broad bipartisan support since the position was created 15 years ago.

Ratcliffe worked to separate himself from the president at his confirmation hearing, saying he believed Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, a conclusion Trump has resisted.

He also said he would tell Trump of intelligence community findings even if he knew the president might disagree with them and even fire him.

“I won’t shade the intelligence for anyone,” Ratcliffe said. “I will deliver the unvarnished truth. It won’t be shaded for anyone. What anyone wants the intelligence to reflect won’t impact the intelligence I deliver.”

The position carries unique challenges given the president’s seeming inclination to politicize intelligence and to bend intelligence agencies to his will. Trump has openly rejected intelligence community assessments at odds with his own viewpoint, including on the Russian interference.

Trump has also shown himself as eager to have intelligence agencies investigate matters he hopes will support his political positions, with agencies now trying to determine whether the coronavirus pandemic emerged in a laboratory in China or from a market.

Ratcliffe said he shares those concerns and believes the nation does as well.

“The American people deserve answers,” Ratcliffe said. “The [intelligence community] will remain laser focused on providing them.”

However, throughout his confirmation hearing Ratcliffe emphasized the importance of the intelligence community’s independence from elected officials.

The intelligence enterprise “has to be apolitical,” he said.

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