President Donald Trump said on Friday that he intends to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, as his permanent director of national intelligence, the second time the President has attempted to make the loyalist lawmaker his spy chief.
“I am pleased to announce the nomination of @RepRatcliffe (Congressman John Ratcliffe) to be Director of National Intelligence (DNI),” Trump said on Twitter. “Would have completed process earlier, but John wanted to wait until after IG Report was finished. John is an outstanding man of great talent!”
Ratcliffe had been nominated as Trump’s DNI pick after Dan Coats stepped down from the post in July 2019, but the Texas congressman withdrew his name from consideration after lawmakers from both parties raised concerns about his qualifications. CNN reported earlier this week that the President was once again considering Ratcliffe to be the permanent director.
Trump appointed his ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, as acting director earlier this month but had to formally nominate a candidate for the permanent job by March 11 or Grenell would have to step down from the acting role. Nominating Ratcliffe allows Grenell to stay on as acting DNI for a longer term.
The White House is hopeful that Ratcliffe will be able to be confirmed this time around.
“We are hopeful that changed circumstances will lead to confirmation, but we plan to fight for every vote,” a White House official told CNN.
Two people close to the situation said the White House believes Ratcliffe can be confirmed this time around. One theory floating around is that their case may have been bolstered by the temporary pick of Grenell as acting director – because he’s seen as such a provocative figure, they think senators may be more amenable to Ratcliffe in the role now.
It remains to be seen if Senate Republicans will vote to confirm Ratcliffe after voicing their opposition to the pick last year when Trump announced his intent to make the same move.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, released a measured statement on Ratcliffe’s selection Friday evening.
“The work our Intelligence Community does is vital for ensuring America’s safety, security, and success. I’ve appreciated the dedication and skill the men and women of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have shown over the last several months during a period of transition,” Burr said.
“As I’ve said before, however, there is no substitute for having a permanent, Senate-confirmed Director of National Intelligence in place to lead our IC. I look forward to receiving Congressman Ratcliffe’s official nomination and ushering it through the Senate’s regular order.”
Democrats immediately made it clear that they oppose the move.
“Replacing one highly partisan operative with another does nothing to keep our country safe. At a time when the Russians are interfering in our elections, we need a nonpartisan leader at the helm of the Intelligence Community who sees the world objectively and speaks truth to power, and unfortunately neither Acting Director Grenell nor Rep. Ratcliffe comes even close to that,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Friday.
“With this nomination, President Trump has shown once again his lack of respect for the rule of law and the intelligence community. Republicans must join Democrats in swiftly rejecting the nomination of Mr. Ratcliffe,” the New York Democrat added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also condemned the pick in a statement.
“Intelligence should never be guided by partisanship or politics,” the California Democrat said. “Unfortunately, Congressman Ratcliffe has shown an unacceptable embrace of conspiracy theories and a clear disrespect and distrust of our law enforcement and intelligence patriots that disqualify him from leading America’s intelligence community.”
The choice of Ratcliffe to be the new permanent director, and the earlier choice to install Grenell as acting director, further suggests Trump is looking for a loyalist to lead the intelligence services he has so often maligned during his presidency.
Loyalty has been something Trump has focused on as he looked for a candidate for the permanent job – during conversations about the role with potential nominees, the President has attempted to assess how loyal they would be to him should they be nominated and confirmed for the job, two sources told CNN. Trump was looking for a pick who would back his mandate, explained one of the sources.
The nomination allows Grenell to execute his loyalty review of the intelligence community, a former senior Democratic national security official told CNN.
“This is the major project. Remember that in addition to (former Director) Joseph Maguire, they relieved the deputy (director), Andrew Hallman (a legendary CIA offficer) and Maguire’s chief of staff at the same time,” said the official.
The decision to renominate Ratcliffe will dredge up a controversy from the summer of 2019 that rankled lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Soon after Trump announced his intent to nominate Ratcliffe, reports surfaced revealing the lawmaker had embellished his credentials – prompting swift criticism from Democratic members of Congress.
At the time, CNN reported that Republicans also privately raised concerns with the White House about Ratcliffe’s nomination.
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 the President and was one of the members of Congress who Trump mentioned in his victory speech after his Senate impeachment acquittal.
Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned Trump on Tuesday against nominating Ratcliffe.
“I think there was pretty uniform bipartisan opposition to that pick earlier and I don’t think anything has changed,” the Virginia Democrat said.
In a tweet, Warner said he still thinks there’s bipartisan opposition to Ratcliffe’s nomination.
“The last time this nomination was unsuccessfully put forward, serious bipartisan questions were raised about Rep. Ratcliffe’s background and qualifications,” Warner said. “It’s hard for me to see how anything new has happened to change that.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with additional information and reaction.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Jim Acosta, Kylie Atwood and Gloria Borger contributed to this report.