Senate Approves Ratcliffe As Nation’s Top Spy

By Katie Bo Williams

May 21, 2020

The Senate voted along party lines to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick for national intelligence director on Thursday, making former Texas prosecutor John Ratcliffe easily the most controversial appointee to be confirmed to the post in its 15-year history. 

The Senate voted 49-44 to confirm Ratcliffe, who received more “no” votes than any previous nominee for the position. (His predecessor under Trump, the Republican senator Dan Coats, was confirmed 85-12.) 

The vote brings to an end an unusually lengthy confirmation process for Racliffe. Trump informally nominated him to the post in June of last year, but bipartisan opposition to his nomination quickly derailed Ratcliffe’s chances. He withdrew from consideration in August. 

Then a Republican congressman from Texas, Ratcliffe had pointed to his experience as a federal prosecutor in Texas to bolster his national security credentials, but his resume proved to be exaggerated. And although he has now served on the House Intelligence Committee for a little over a year, Ratcliffe has never worked in the intelligence community

The statute establishing the office of the director of national intelligence, or ODNI — the coordinating office for the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies — dictates that its leader must have “extensive national security experience and management experience.”

In the interim, Trump tapped loyalist Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, as acting director. Republicans previously cool to Ratcliffe’s nomination appeared to come around — in part out of a desire to have a Senate-confirmed official in the post — and his party-line confirmation on Thursday was widely anticipated. 

The DNI’s role is crucial to our national security, and I look forward to working with Director Ratcliffe as he oversees the efforts of our nation’s 17 intelligence agencies,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “In a time when the threats to our nation are many and varied, it is critical to have a Senate-confirmed DNI ensuring the wide array of intelligence agencies are sharing information across lines, coordinating capabilities, and working in the furtherance of our nation’s security using 21st century, cutting edge capabilities.”

Director Ratcliffe understands this responsibility, and I am confident that he will fulfill all of the roles assigned to the DNI with integrity,” Rubio said in a statement. 

Ratcliffe is known as a staunch defender of Trump in the House and an architect of some of the House GOP’s most aggressive investigations into alleged wrongdoing inside the intelligence community, seen by critics as deeply partisan. At his nomination hearing earlier this month, he was pressed about his independence by almost every Democrat on the dais. 

I won’t shade intelligence for anyone,” he said. “If confirmed as the DNI, you have my commitment to deliver accurate and objective intelligence, and to speak truth to power, be that with this committee or within the administration.”

Ratcliffe walked a fine line when pressed by lawmakers to either support or disavow some of Trump’s most controversial statements about members of the intelligence community. Lawmakers from both parties — including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, whose vote was critical to Ratcliffe’s confirmation — pressed the Texas Republican on Trump’s assertion that the intelligence community has “run amok.” Ratcliffe deftly declined to condemn the president’s remarks. 

I don’t think the men and women of the intelligence agencies are running amok,” he said.

By Katie Bo Williams // Katie Bo Williams is the senior national security correspondent for Defense One, where she writes about defense, counterterror, NATO, nukes, and more. She previously covered intelligence and cybersecurity for The Hill, including in-depth reporting on the Russia investigations and military detention issues. Before her journalism career, Katie Bo worked in thoroughbred horse racing, helping breed, sell, and prepare the next generation of Kentucky Derby winners. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia. A native of Goochland County, Virginia, she now lives in D.C. and can usually be found haunting one of the various bookstores on Capitol Hill.

May 21, 2020