President Donald Trump is revisiting the idea of nominating Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe to be the next Director of National Intelligence, two sources told CNN.
Ratcliffe withdrew his name from consideration for the same job last year amid bipartisan concerns about his qualifications but the President now appears open to the idea of tapping him for the DNI job a second time.
Trump has spoken with Ratcliffe and another candidate, US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra, about the DNI job in recent days, multiple sources said. These have been preliminary discussions and Trump could speak with additional potential nominees in the coming days.
During these initial conversations, however, Trump has attempted to assess how loyal potential nominees would be to him should they be nominated and confirmed for the job, two sources said. Trump is looking for a pick who would back his mandate, explained one of the sources.
CNN reported last week that Hoekstra was under consideration for the DNI job and had discussed possibility with the White House in recent weeks.
But indications that Trump is once again considering Ratcliffe is sure to raise questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, particularly after his candidacy imploded last year.
After Trump announced his intent to nominate Ratcliffe, reports surfaced revealing the Texas lawmaker had embellished his credentials – prompting swift criticism from Democratic members of Congress.
At the time, CNN reported that Republicans also privately raised concerns about Ratcliffe’s nomination to the White House.
Trump then blamed the media reports for Ratcliffe’s decision to pull his name.
In the time since that debacle unfolded, Ratcliffe has remained a faithful ally of Trump and was one of the members of Congress who Trump mentioned in his victory speech after his Senate impeachment acquittal.
Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned Trump Tuesday against nominating Ratcliffe.
“I think there was pretty uniform bipartisan opposition to that pick earlier and I don’t think anything has changed,” Warner said.
Other candidates under consideration
In addition to Ratcliffe, Trump has also discussed the DNI job with Hoekstra in recent days, according to three sources. CNN previously reported that Hoekstra was on the list of candidates.
Hoekstra assumed the role of US ambassador to the Netherlands in January 2018 and name has been circulated on several occasions for a number of vacancies within the administration, including national security adviser.
The former Michigan congressman served as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2004-2007. Hoekstra became a Trump supporter when he served as a surrogate for the campaign.
Hoekstra told CNN said that any comments on these discussions would come from the White House. The White House did not reply to a request for comment.
Trump has teased the potential announcement of a nominee in recent days.
“We are talking to five different people right now,” Trump told reporters of the discussions on Tuesday, while visiting India. He said a decision would come “very shortly,” citing the next week or two.
Last week Ambassador Richard Grenell was appointed to serve as acting DNI. However, Trump must nominate a someone for the permanent job by March 11 in order for Grenell to remain in the acting post – a role he can serve in while Senate confirmation is pending.
‘Filling the gaps’
Trump’s move to name Grenell as acting DNI prompted criticism from Democrats and even some Trump allies who were quick to point out his lack of formal intelligence experience. Several Democrats slammed the move as an attempt by the President to simply install a staunch loyalist atop the intelligence community.
In addition to serving as acting DNI, Grenell will also remain the US Ambassador to Germany.
A former senior White House official previously described Trump’s pick of Grenell as “filling the gaps” following the impeachment acquittal, sensing disloyalty in the now former acting DNI Joseph Maguire, and filling that position with somebody he sees as sufficiently loyal. Trump is “looking for a ‘political’ who will have his back,” the former official said.
Grenell, also a former Fox News contributor, is not expected to be nominated for the full-time director position, which would require Senate confirmation. But it seems Trump is looking for a similar level of loyalty in candidates he is considering for the full time job.
Maguire, Grenell’s predecessor, formally resigned from US government service last week after Trump made it clear he would not be nominated for the full time intelligence chief job, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.
CNN previously reported that Trump became irate in a meeting with Maguire earlier this month for allowing lawmakers to be briefed about the intelligence community’s belief that Russia is already taking steps to interfere in the 2020 election and has once again developed a preference for Trump.
CNN’s Vivian Salama contributed to this report.