Dan Coats Stepping Down As Director Of National Intelligence

Dan Coats is stepping down as Director of National Intelligence, and President Trump wants to replace him with an inexperienced, obsequious toady.

After months of reports about public and private disputes with the President and other members of the Administration, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is stepping down, and being replaced by a Trump loyalist who has often joined in on the President’s attacks on the F.B.I. and other intelligence agencies:

WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Sunday that Dan Coats would step down as the director of national intelligence after a fraught tenure marked by tension with the Oval Office, and he tapped one of his staunch defenders, Representative John Ratcliffe, to take over the country’s expansive network of spy agencies.

Mr. Coats, a former senator and longtime pillar of the Republican establishment who angered the president by providing unwelcome assessments of Russia, North Korea and other matters, told Mr. Trump last week that it was time to move on, officials said. His departure removes one of the most prominent national security officials willing to contradict the president.

If Mr. Ratcliffe is confirmed by the Senate, he will offer a starkly different perspective in the Situation Room, one more in line with Mr. Trump’s thinking. Mr. Ratcliffe, a third-term Republican from Texas and a former prosecutor, has embraced Mr. Trump’s theories about the Russia investigation and was among the sharpest questioners of Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, at last week’s hearings.

Mr. Trump met with Mr. Ratcliffe on July 19 to discuss the job, but the hearings just five days later offered the congressman a chance to essentially audition for the president, who enjoyed watching him grill Mr. Mueller, according to people informed about the process.

Some Republicans, however, privately expressed concern, including Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who cautioned the president’s advisers that he considered Mr. Ratcliffe too political for the post, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Trump disregarded the warning.

“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,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter after reports in Axios and The New York Times about the personnel change. “A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves.”

The president offered appreciation but scant praise for Mr. Coats. “I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country,” Mr. Trump wrote without elaboration.

Mr. Burr made no comment about Mr. Ratcliffe, a telling decision for the Republican whose committee will consider his confirmation. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, his Democratic vice chairman, likewise did not mention Mr. Ratcliffe, but offered pointed praise for Mr. Coats.

“The mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power,” Mr. Warner said in a statement. “As D.N.I., Dan Coats stayed true to that mission.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, did not hold back, saying that Mr. Ratcliffe was clearly “selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to President Trump with his demagogic questioning” of Mr. Mueller and that his confirmation “would be a big mistake.”

Mr. Coats, 76, who represented Indiana in the House and the Senate for 24 years and served as ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush, had been an important link between Mr. Trump and the Republican establishment. Without Mr. Coats or figures like Jim Mattis, Mr. Trump’s first defense secretary, and Nikki R. Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, the president is increasingly surrounded by loyalists.

Indeed, Mr. Trump’s grip on the party has only strengthened, demonstrating that the establishment needs his support far more than he needs its. To Mr. Trump, Mr. Coats had come to represent the disapproving Republican elite that he scorned, and his frustration with his intelligence director spiked again during spring weekends at his club in Florida, according to people who spoke with him then.

Mr. Coats had long been expected to depart of his own accord, an administration official said, but remained to avoid appearing to be forced out. The president asked him in February to stay longer, but in a meeting last week with Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Mr. Coats said he was ready to leave. Mr. Coats finished his resignation letter a week ago and submitted it on Sunday, effective Aug. 15, according to a person familiar with its drafting.

While Coats has not been a public face he has spent the past two and a half years guiding the intelligence community through what has been a turbulent time made so primarily by attacks against it by the President of the United States. He has been one of the strongest voices, for example, in defending the conclusion of every agency that Russia did in fact interfere in the 2016 election, that it was continuing its campaigns of cyberwarfare and disruption via disinformation against the United States and other western democracies. He has also publicly and privately raised doubts about the Administration’s North Korea by stating that, in the assessment of the intelligence community, it was highly unlikely that the DPRK would ever completely give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile research programs. All this occurred while the President continued to call the Russia investigation “fake news,” said he believed Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, and claimed that he had a special relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who he believed would indeed give up his nuclear weapons. It was also during this time that Trump engaged in frequent attacks on the intelligence and the so-called “Deep State” on his Twitter account and elsewhere.

By all accounts, then, Coats’ tenure in office has been good for the nation. He has been a staunch defender of the intelligence community who has been willing to speak truth to power both privately and publicly and, by all accounts, a solid administrator of a far-flung network of intelligence agencies that, notwithstanding the changes made after the September 11th attacks, remain somewhat competitive with each other and not exactly eager to share information. This is one reason why the initial reaction to the announcement of his decision to step down is coming with regrets. This is especially true given who the President has chosen to replace him.

John Ratcliffe, the man who Trump has named as Coats’ successor has an impressive resume, but it isn’t exactly one that seems to contain the kind of experience necessary for the position he’s being nominated for. Ratcliffe received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and his Juris Doctorate from Southern Methodist University. After law school, Ratcliffe apparently worked in the private sector before joining the Justice Department during George W. Bush’s Justice Department. During the final year of that Administration, he served as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. At the same time, he apparently also served for eight years as the Mayor of Heath, Texas, a small town in East Texas. He was elected to Congress as the member from Texas’s 4th Congressional District after defeating Ralph Hall, at the time the longest-serving Republican in the House of Representatives. Other than the fact that he was named to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year, there is nothing in his resume to indicate any experience in intelligence, foreign policy, or military affairs.

Perhaps the most important thing about Ratcliffe, though, is the fact that he is essentially an obsequious Trump loyalist:

John Ratcliffe, a House representative from Texas, will be nominated to replace Dan Coats as the director of national intelligence, President Trump said on Sunday.

“A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. Mr. Coats will leave the position Aug. 15, and an acting director will be named shortly, the president said.

Mr. Ratcliffe, 53, has a reputation as a staunch conservative and an ally of Mr. Trump. He has a 96 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, and earned a 100 percent in the most recent session score from Heritage Action for America.

The relationship between Mr. Trump and intelligence officials has been strained during Mr. Coats’s two-year tenure. Mr. Coats has at times clashed with the president and taken issue with Mr. Trump’s assertions about Russian interference.

If nominated and confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Ratcliffe would become the sixth person to serve as the director of national intelligence, a position that was created after the Sept. 11 attacks to promote better coordination among the country’s intelligence agencies.

Amid whispers that Mr. Coats was on the way out, conservative allies of the president, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, favored Mr. Ratcliffe as a replacement.

Mr. Ratcliffe met privately with Mr. Trump at the White House July 19 to discuss taking the job, administration officials said.

Mr. Ratcliffe sharply questioned Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, at last week’s hearing and accused him of not following Justice Department guidelines after Mr. Mueller said he could not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice charges.

If a special counsel cannot bring charges, Mr. Ratcliffe argued, he should not presume to say a target was not cleared.

“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,” Mr. Ratcliffe said of the part of Mr. Mueller’s report that described how the president sought to impede the investigation, “that Volume II of this report was not authorized under the law to be written.”

On Sunday morning, Mr. Ratcliffe said on Fox News that Democrats “accused Donald Trump of a crime, and then they try and reverse engineer a process to justify that accusation.”

“I’m not going to accuse any specific person of any specific crime, I just want there to be a fair process to get there,” he added. “What I do know, as a former federal prosecutor, is that it does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama administration.”

Ratcliffe’s lack of experience in the intelligence, foreign policy, or military areas could prove to be problematic even for some Republican members of the Senate. The most important person in this regard will likely be Senator Richard Burr, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burr has spent the last two years rebuffing Administration pushback and conducted what by all accounts has been a bipartisan investigation of Russian interference in the election and the links, if any, between the Trump campaign and people close to the Russian government. It’s possible that as with the nomination of Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board, which was ultimately withdrawn when even many Republicans noted that Cain had absolutely no qualifications for the position he was named to and that it was unlikely he would be confirmed. Whether the same thing happens to Ratcliffe remains to be seen.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Intelligence, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. steve says:

    The best people!


  2. DrDaveT says:

    President Trump wants to replace him with an inexperienced, obsequious toady.

    Well, duh. In other news, Homer wants a doughnut.

    During the final year of that Administration, he served as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. At the same time, he apparently also served for eight years as the Mayor of Heath, Texas

    So, how is this possible? I was pretty sure that the conflict of interest prohibitions for federal employees ought to trigger sirens and flashing lights at that one.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I already took what Trump’s intelligence people said with a grain of salt, but from this point forward we have to assume that any statement from CIA/NSA is a lie.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This will end well.

    Sometimes I just crack me up.

  5. CSK says:

    You know Trump really wanted Sebastian Gorka.

  6. Kathy says:

    Dennison seems very confused about the roles of various government officials. For example, it is not the job of a district’s representative in the House to tackle the problems of their district, but to represent that district in the Federal government.

    Likewise, it is not the job of the Director of National Intelligence to kiss orange butt.

  7. al Ameda says:

    Coats steps aside before Trump can degrade and humiliate him.
    Maybe that will come later?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Likewise, it is not the job of the Director of National Intelligence to kiss orange butt.

    Can you do us all a favor and explain this to Mr. Ratcliffe? I’m pretty sure he thinks that is exactly what his job entails.

  9. reid says:

    @al Ameda: It all depends (like everything with Trump) on whether Coats flatters Trump or speaks the truth.

  10. SenyorDave says:

    Sometimes I think this is some sort of elaborate version of performance art on the part of Trump. Get elected as POTUS and see if there is any bottom where his party won’t support him. Assuming that DNI is an important post, electing a partisan hack with no ostensible experience in intelligence (in all definitions of the term, it would seem) should elicit a pushback among your leaders in your own party in normal times. Maybe he should go all in and just nominate Tiffany Trump. She probably has as much qualifications as Ratcliffe, and she has the Trump brand. OTOH, Ratcliffe is probably more loyal.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Well fortunately for Mr. RATcliffe (deliberately written that way for pseudo ironic effect, my apologies), the boys in the Senate Club have tipped their hand for his benefit. Now, he can spend a couple of days practicing “no, I was not appointed because I would rubber stamp whatever Trump says; I am my own man and resent any implications to the contrary.”

    I’m confident that he would have been able to ad-lib that line, understand. Still, practice makes perfect.

    ETA: “[Tiffany Trump] probably has as much qualifications as Ratcliffe, and she has the Trump brand. OTOH, Ratcliffe is probably more loyal.”

    More loyal would be my guess, too! 🙂

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Ratcliffe’s job is to lie for Trump. Period. He’ll lie first and foremost about Trump’s masters in the Kremlin. He’ll lie about Kim Jong Un and about Iran. The only rational assumption going forward is that we no longer have an intelligence community. The same must be said for the Brits now, MI5, 6 and GCHQ. Ditto Mossad. The Trump/Boris/Bibi intelligence community must be almost entirely dismissed.

    IOW when next we hear about some incident in the Persian Gulf, we will have to assume, in the absence of perfectly clear, absolutely convincing physical evidence, that we’re being lied to. We have to assume that when Kim pops off his next nuke, the CIA will lie about it, probably to deny it given Trump’s desperate need to be flattered by Kim. It goes without saying that the US intel community will be a subdivision of the FSB and GRU when it comes to all things Russia.

    It is now impossible to rally the country behind a war of any sort, even a justified one. The 42% will believe, the 53% won’t.

    The price of putting a pathological liar and traitor in the White House.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    IOW when next we hear about some incident in the Persian Gulf, we will have to assume, in the absence of perfectly clear, absolutely convincing physical evidence, that we’re being lied to.

    My inner child of the counterculture finds itself asking how this would be different from Gulf of Tonkin/Support for Pinochet’s Chile/Nicaragua, El Salvador, and other Cold War “nation building experiments”/War on “terrah” terror/Weapons of Mass Distraction/ and so on. Don’t really want an answer (probably won’t read it either) as the question is only musing aloud–not even rhetorical.

  14. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    That worries me a great deal. Intelligence is one of the most important tools of foreign policy. Dennison seems to believe you can go by what’s on Fox News, and what Putin and Kim tell him.

    I just don’t see most Republicans being ok with a massive lobotomy of their countries foreign policy apparatus.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    Vote blue. No matter who.
    We may be able to survive another year and a half of this, but not five and a half years.