On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced that Dan Coats, the second longest serving director of national intelligence, will be stepping down. To replace him, Trump has nominated Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, who has no formal connection to the intelligence community.
Complicating Ratcliffe’s nomination is dissent from Republican senators like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and concerns over Ratcliffe's aggressive attacks on the integrity of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his hearing in front of Congress last week.
“You wrote 180 pages, 180 pages about decisions that weren’t reached, about potential crimes that weren’t charged or decided. And respectfully — respectfully, by doing that, you managed to violate every principle in the most sacred of traditions about prosecutors not offering extra-prosecutorial analysis about potential crimes that aren’t charged,” Ratcliffe said to Mueller during the hearing.
To Trump, however, Ratcliffe's antagonism and skepticism of the intelligence community is an asset. During a press conference on Tuesday, the president deflected criticisms that Ratcliffe is too partisan for the role of DNI, and said that he hoped Ratcliffe will be able to control an intelligence community the president thinks is untrustworthy.
“I think we need somebody like that in there,” Trump said. “We need somebody strong that can reign it in. Because, as I think you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They have run amok.”
During an interview with Boston Public Radio on Wednesday, John Woodward, a former CIA officer and professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of International Relations, said Trump’s characterization of the intelligence community is not ideal.
“If you’re at the working level at the CIA, those aren’t exactly positive comments that make you feel great about the administration that you’re serving,” Woodward said.
Though Ratcliffe has been cause for alarm with intelligence officers like former CIA Director John O. Brennan, Woodward said that he’ll be waiting to hear Ratcliffe’s Senate confirmation hearing before rushing to a judgment. Woodward, however, did express some concerns over Ratcliffe’s political affinity for Trump.
“It’s not what the president wants to hear. It’s what the president needs to hear,” Woodward said. “I think now what we see reflected with concern over the Ratcliffe nomination is that we have a partisan.”
While Woodward is sympathetic to the concerns over Ratcliffe, he also said that the public should not jump to any conclusions.
“[We should] wait and see [what happens],” he said. “Let’s still have faith in the political process.”