John Ratcliffe Withdraws As Trump’s Nominee For Director Of National Intelligence

President Trump has withdrawn his nominee for Director of National Intelligence after controversy regarding his qualifications and resume.

Just days after it was announced that current Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats would be leaving office in mid-August and President Trump announced that Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe would replace him, it was announced this afternoon that Ratcliffe’s name is being withdrawn from consideration:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday abruptly dropped his plan to nominate Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, as the nation’s top intelligence official, following bipartisan questions about his qualifications and pushback over whether he had exaggerated his résumé.

Mr. Ratcliffe, an outspoken supporter of Mr. Trump, has come under intense scrutiny since the president declared Sunday on Twitter that the lawmaker was his pick to succeed Dan Coats, who is stepping down as director of national intelligence on Aug. 15. The selection generated scant enthusiasm among senators of both parties who would have been decided whether to confirm him.

Mr. Trump’s announcement that Mr. Ratcliffe would not be his nominee after all, also made on Twitter, spoke bitterly of the attention Mr. Ratcliffe’s claims about his experience as a federal prosecutor quickly received from the news media.

The announcement was another reversal for the president and underscored recurring dysfunction in the White House vetting process that has plagued the administration. Mr. Ratcliffe joined a long list of Trump appointees who have had to pull their names after the president announced his plans to put them in powerful posts, without a full picture of potentially disqualifying details.

Here are the President’s tweets announcing the decision:

Congressman Ratcliffe also took to Twitter to discuss the withdrawal of his nomination:

The sudden resignation of Director Coats and Trump’s decision to nominate a third-term Congressman from Texas to replace him quickly became a point of controversy even among many Republicans. From the beginning, it was clear that Ratcliffe, who was little known outside of his appearances on Fox News Channel and his recent questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last week, could face a bumpy road before the Senate.

The biggest issue he would have faced is the fact that to put it bluntly, he was not qualified for the job. The statute that created the position of Director of National Intelligence specifically requires that the person named to the position have “extensive national security experience.” Ratcliffe’s chief problem was the fact that he had no real national security experience at all. Though he claimed to have handled terrorism cases during his brief tenure as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas but there is no record of this having happened, for example. He also appears to have exaggerated his record regarding prosecuting immigration cases while in that position, but that too was found to be false. Finally, while he is currently a member of the House Intelligence Committee he has only been in that position since January and has apparently not joined other committee members in meetings with domestic and foreign intelligence officials that are supposed to be a regular part of having a position on that committee. Because of all of this, even several Republicans in the Senate were expressing private and public doubts about his nomination prior to this afternoon’s announcement.

Ratcliffe’s nomination isn’t the only controversy that has developed in the wake of the announcement of Coats’ retirement. The New York Times reported earlier today before the announcement about Ratcliffe that Trump was blocking Coats’ deputy from taking the position of Acting Director of National Intelligence notwithstanding the fact that the governing statute appears to require just that:

WASHINGTON — The White House is planning to block Sue Gordon, the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official, from rising to the role of acting director of national intelligence when Dan Coats steps down this month, according to people familiar with the Trump administration’s plans.

The decision to circumvent Ms. Gordon, who has served as the principal deputy director in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will probably upset Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. They have expressed doubts about Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, who is President Trump’s choice to be the next Senate-confirmed leader of the agency.

Mr. Trump did not allow Ms. Gordon to personally deliver a recent intelligence briefing after she arrived at the White House, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence, Amanda J. Schoch, said Ms. Gordon was not blocked from attending any recent briefing, but she declined to comment about what happened inside the Oval Office.

Opposition in the White House to letting her serve as acting director has raised the question of whether she will be ousted as part of a leadership shuffle at the intelligence director’s office that will be more to Mr. Trump’s liking

A federal statute says that if the position of director of national intelligence becomes vacant, the deputy director — currently Ms. Gordon — shall serve as acting director.

But there appears to be a loophole: The law gives the White House much more flexibility in choosing who to appoint as the acting deputy if the No. 2 position is vacant, said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who specializes in national-security legal issues.

Ms. Gordon will retire if told by the White House that Mr. Trump wants someone else in the deputy’s role who could then rise to fill the vacancy created when Mr. Coats departs, according to officials.

The statute in question is 50 U.S.C. 3026(a)(6) which states that:

The Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence shall act for, and exercise the powers of, the Director of National Intelligence during the absence or disability of the Director of National Intelligence or during a vacancy in the position of Director of National Intelligence.

This would appear to require that Gordon become the Acting DNI after Coats leaves on August 15th. However, as noted, there is a loophole in that the White House would have more authority to name an Acting DNI in the event there was a vacancy in the position of Principal Deputy DNI, the position that Gordon currently holds. It’s not clear from the report why Trump might object to Gordon taking over for Coats even for a brief period of time before a replacement is named and confirmed for Coats. This is especially true given the fact that Trump named her to the position to begin with after she had served in various capacities in the Central Intelligence Agency for 25 years. It’s also unclear if today’s developments will change the President’s position.

In any case, this was the right thing to do, and no doubt motivated by the fact that Ratcliffe’s nomination was being questioned even by many Senate Republicans. In that respect, this is not unlike the aborted attempt to place Herman Cain on the Federal Reserve Board, a decision that was reversed when Republican Senators made it clear that he would not be confirmed. So, chalk this one up as another retreat by the President and a win for American national security.

FILED UNDER: 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

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Queen of Hearts: “Fire your cabinet picks while they’re being considered. It saves time.”

    Putin’s going to be pissed.

  2. Jen says:

    This blocking of Gordon seems really, really weird to me. She’d only be in there as long as it takes to name a successor, but that might well be the whole of it.

    Coats leaves on Aug. 15, and *by law* Gordon is in. Trump realizes that it’s not going to be easy for him to have one of his incompetent sycophants nominated for this (incredibly important) position, so what he HAS to do is force Gordon out before the 15th.

    The real question is why he is so opposed to Gordon? It can’t just be because she’s female and competent. She must have expressed an opinion that the Russians interfered in our elections.

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  3. CSK says:

    @Jen: Apparently Trump views Gordon’s experience as proof she’s part of the Deep State.

    I’m serious.

    10
  4. Jax says:

    @Jen: I’ve come to the conclusion that Trump must be allergic to competence and ethics. Must make him break out in hives or something. 😉

  5. Teve says:

    @Jen: she was appointed by Obama in 2015.

    Further:

    Two sources told CNN there was an active search underway and that Gordon was not considered likely to be retained because she “is viewed by some in the administration as someone who is not going to be the type of political loyalist Trump wants in that role.”

  6. michael reynolds says:

    It’s quite the dilemma for Republicans. On the one hand they want to cover up Russia’s efforts to get them re-elected, on the other hand it’ll be hard to invade anyone new if the whole country just laughs at the intelligence community.

    Encourage Putin, start a new war, what to do, what to do?

    10
  7. csk says:

    Over at Lucianne.com, they’re saying that Gordon is part of a “corrupt cabal” of the Deep State who needs to be purged. Clearly Mangolini shares this view.

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    1
  8. Jen says:

    “is viewed by some in the administration as someone who is not going to be the type of political loyalist Trump wants in that role.”

    This is the exact godd@mn opposite definition of someone who should be filling that role. JFC.

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  9. CSK says:

    @Jen: Being loyal to Trump, in addition to flattering him and kissing his ass, means never telling him anything he doesn’t want to hear.

  10. SenyorDave says:

    Maybe some Republican with influence, like McConnell or Graham will use this opportunity to stand up to Trump and tell him to appoint a competent person from the intelligence community for the good of the country. Of course this would only occur in the alternate reality version of the Republican party.

  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    What’s the clear statement as to how someone’s political views matter at all in this post, as opposed to dedication and competence?

    As Michael often says, what’s the innocent explanation for this?

    I would very much like to hear what’s going on behind closed doors. What did certain Senate Republicans tell Trump behind closed doors? How did they get him to back down? Not that it’s that hard, but they have to have a credible threat. I doubt if “embarrassment” is a credible threat for Trump.

  12. Jen says:

    What’s the clear statement as to how someone’s political views matter at all in this post, as opposed to dedication and competence?

    The short, honest, and correct response to that question is that someone’s political views should not matter AT ALL for this post. Competence and experience are the ONLY things that matter.

    This post was created to resolve holes in intelligence collection and dissemination that were identified after 9/11. Intel agencies are notoriously protective of their information and share only what they think is necessary for others to know. The weakness in that–as identified when we got attacked in a rather big way–is that you don’t always know what is relevant. On the other hand, broad and unstructured sharing is itself a risk, for the obvious reason that when too many people know something, leaks are more probable.

    This position is incredibly important in a post-9/11 world. And it demands competent, unbiased, and trusted leadership. Trusted by the *intel community* mostly.

    Literally, political hacks need not apply–in a sane world.

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  13. Teve says:

    @Jen: yup.

  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    After complaining and blaming the “lamestream media”…as Doug points out, above…Trump then explains how the media does his vetting for him.

    “No, you vet for me. I like when you vet. No, you vet. I think the White House has a great vetting process. You vet for me. When I give a name, I give it out to the press and you vet for me. A lot of times you do a very good job. Not always… If you look at it, I mean, if you take a look at it, the vetting process for the White House is very good. But you’re part of the vetting process, you know? I give out a name to the press and they vet for me. We save a lot of money that way.

    What a fuqing moron.

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  15. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Trump’s Friday;
    Spy Chief nominee yanked
    Arms treaty terminated
    NoKo excused for popping off (Russian?) missiles
    Deficit exploding spending bill signed
    Senior State Dept official fired

  16. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl I think I lost IQ points trying to figure that out.

  17. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    Trump should take up the motto “L’état, c’est moi.”

  18. Jen says:

    @Kathy: In spirit, he already has.

    He wouldn’t understand that quote, of course.

  19. Gustopher says:

    I really have to wonder what terrible thing is about to come out and make him decide to retire from the House to spend time with his family. Incompetence and a lack of qualifications isn’t disqualifying, so it has to be something else.

    I’m guessing cocaine parties with Marina Butina, and a resignation on August 28th.

    I mean, what else can this mean: “I do not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue”?

  20. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    In spirit, in word, and in deed.

    But he should make it explicit so it will be clear to everyone else.

  21. Jay L Gischer says:

    Ok, so Trump is compromised in some way by Russia, either with blackmail, or maybe just because he’s a dumbass who wants a Trump Tower Moscow deal. The NatSec apparatus knows this, and because of that, is withholding stuff from Trump. Trump would like that to stop, and is making some moves to do that, but the NatSec senators, including the Republican ones, are holding the line against him.

    The question is, what threat are they using to yank on his reins? Impeachment? Disclosure of … what?

    Maybe my speculation is wildly out of whack? You guys are leaning more toward personal scandal on the part of Ratcliffe, which I suppose is possible, after all, have a DNI who is easily blackmailed is not a good idea. But it doesn’t seem like that to me, especially not with the angle about Gordon.

  22. Teve says:

    Jay Rosen
    @jayrosen_nyu
    Incredible quote. Jake Tapper says he spoke to a senior national security official who told him. “Everyone at this point ignores what the president says and just does their job. The American people should take some measure of confidence in that.”

    JHC.

  23. Jax says:

    @Teve: Operating on autopilot, hoping our “checks and balances” work like the Founding Father’s hoped…hundreds of years ago.

    Could they have imagined such a scoundrel as Donald Trump, or a sycophant like #MoscowMitch?

  24. Barry says:

    @Jax: “Could they have imagined such a scoundrel as Donald Trump, or a sycophant like #MoscowMitch?”

    They dealt with King George III and the UK Parliament. I think that what they couldn’t have imagined was both the depth and breadth of the corruption of the modern Right. If they had, they’d probably have figure that it was then ‘game over’. After all, what country could survive when half of the political class and forty percent of the voters are flat-out traitors?