According to multiple reports, Dan Coats is stepping down as Director of National Intelligence on August 15. A confirmation tweet was sent Sunday by President Trump, leading some to wonder— as is the case with many high-profile departures— whether Coats truly jumped or was pushed. Trump also wasted little time naming his replacement, three-term Congressman John Ratcliffe (R-TX). He will be the third DNI to serve under President Trump, after Coats and Acting Director Mike Dempsey.
Sunday’s announcement marks the end of an often rocky relationship between the former two-term senator and his boss. Trump frequently ignored, dismissed, or openly mocked the intelligence community, with which he often seemed at odds. Coats’ reports frequently contradicted the president’s views and statements on everything from Iran to Russia, Daesh to climate change.
After Trump publicly questioned whether Russia interfered in the 2016 elections at a 2018 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Coats issued a clear statement defending U.S. intelligence. He seemed genuinely surprised when NBC’s Andrea Mitchell informed him of breaking news, during the middle of an interview, that Trump had invited Putin to the White House. “OK. That’s going to be special,” he replied. However, it was on North Korea that the two seemed most far apart. After Trump declared that Kim Jong Un would give up his nuclear weapons, and that North Korea was no longer a threat, Coats testified last January before the Senate Intelligence Committee that was not the case. It was reportedly after the Presidents Day holiday that the White House first floated the idea of kicking him out.
In his place will be John Ratcliffe, who apparently passed what many saw as an audition, for this or another White House job last week, aggressively grilling former special counsel Robert Mueller. Ratcliffe was dogged in his defense of his future boss on Wednesday, a point not lost on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Ratcliffe accused Mueller of violating “every principle and the most sacred of traditions about prosecutors not offering extra prosecutorial analysis,” during his allotted time. In a press release Sunday, Schumer called Ratcliffe’s questioning of Mueller “demagogic,” and said he was only being chosen out of “blind loyalty to President Trump.”
The White House currently boasts the highest number of first-year departures of any presidency in the last 40 years. Coats is the 45th high profile departure under the 45th president, according to a running tally kept by Axios. There will almost certainly be more. While it’s certainly true that Trump and Coats rarely saw eye to eye, it’s also very likely that the 76-year old was looking to retire anyway.
It seems clear that, in Ratcliffe, Trump will have a Director of National Intelligence who more closely shares his views about Russia, North Korea, and other matters. This also seems to fit a pattern of replacing appointees who go in their own direction rather than implementing the elected President’s agenda (Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo at State, Jeff Sessions with William Barr at Justice, etc.). Despite a numerical majority in the Senate, Ratcliffe’s confirmation in the Republican-controlled upper house may be likely but seems far from certain.