Despite Opposition, John Ratcliffe Confirmed For Top Intelligence Post

May 21, 2020

Despite Democratic opposition, the Republican majority in the Senate on Thursday confirmed U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, as the new director of national intelligence, overseeing all 17 intelligence agencies.

With the 49-44 vote along party lines, Ratcliffe becomes the fourth person to hold the job in less than a year.

He takes over at a sensitive moment. U.S.-China tensions are rising over the coronavirus pandemic, and many in the national security community say they are certain that Russia again will attempt to interfere in the U.S. presidential election this fall.

Also, Democrats are increasingly critical of President Trump's shake-ups in the national security arena, and some have accused him of politicizing work that's supposed to be nonpartisan.

In Congress, Ratcliffe was an outspoken supporter of Trump and at times questioned the validity of the Russia investigation. He has served on the House Intelligence Committee since the beginning of 2019 but has far less experience than any previous director of national intelligence, a post created after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate U.S. intelligence efforts.

The director of national intelligence speaks for the intelligence community as a whole, and along with the CIA director, traditionally takes part in the intelligence briefing delivered to the president most weekdays.

Democratic complaints

At Ratcliffe's May 5 confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrats repeatedly asked him whether he would be capable of delivering the "unvarnished truth" and deliver information to Trump that the president did not want to hear.

"I'm sure going to get a lot of questions about what the president says, or what the president thinks," Ratcliffe said at the hearing. "Regardless of what he says, it will not impact the intelligence that I deliver."

However, Ratcliffe avoided taking a position on a number of key intelligence questions.

He was asked whether he believed a Senate Intelligence Committee report saying the Russians tried to help Trump in the 2016 election, or a House Intelligence Committee report saying the Russians didn't try to assist Trump.

Despite the contradictory findings of the two reports, Ratcliffe said he had no reason to doubt the conclusions of either one.

"We saw him dance around direct questions," Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said Thursday on the Senate floor shortly before the confirmation vote.

"If you're John Ratcliffe, the intelligence really doesn't matter. All that matters is that he makes Donald Trump happy. And if Donald Trump doesn't want to acknowledge that the Russians helped him, then those are John Ratcliffe's marching orders."

Trump has parted ways with most all of the top national security officials he appointed originally.

Dan Coats stepped down as director of national intelligence in August after disagreements with Trump. Joseph Maguire and Richard Grenell have each served in an acting capacity since then.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.