WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, will leave his job next month, President Trump announced Sunday, after a turbulent two years in which Coats and the president were often at odds over Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump announced Coats’ departure as Aug. 15 in a tweet that thanked Coats for his service. He said he will nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to the post and that he will name an acting official in the coming days. Ratcliffe is a former federal prosecutor who fiercely questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller last week during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
In a letter of resignation released Sunday night, Coats said serving as the nation’s top intelligence official has been a “distinct privilege” but that it was time for him to “move on” to the next chapter of his life. He cited his work to strengthen the intelligence community’s effort to prevent harm to the U.S. from adversaries and to reform the security clearance process.
A former Republican senator from Indiana, Coats was appointed director of national intelligence in March 2017, becoming the fifth person to hold the post since it was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to oversee and coordinate the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.
Coats had been among the last of the seasoned foreign policy hands brought to surround the president after his 2016 victory. That roster included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and later national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
His departure had been rumored for months, and intelligence officials had been expecting him to leave before the 2020 presidential campaign season reached its peak.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s intelligence committee, tweeted Sunday: “The mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power. As DNI, Dan Coats stayed true to that mission.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Coats, saying he had been reassured knowing that such a man as his former Senate colleague “took such a deliberate, thoughtful, and unbiased approach was at the helm of our intelligence community.”
Trump’s announcement that Coats would be leaving came days after Mueller’s public testimony on his two-year investigation into Russian election interference and potential obstruction of justice by Trump, which officials said both emboldened and infuriated the president.
Coats, 76, served in Congress from 1981 to 1999 as a member of the House and in the Senate. He served as ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005 and returned to the Senate in 2011. He decided not to seek re-election and retired from Congress in January 2017.
In a tweet, Trump praised Ratcliffe: “A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves.”
Ratcliffe appeared Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” and made a number of points that were in sync with Trump’s rhetoric. He said it was time to move on from talk of impeachment, questioned the legitimacy of the Mueller report into Russian election interference and urged investigation into potential wrongdoing during the Obama administration.
His remarks echoed his questioning of Mueller last week, in which the Texas Republican challenged the legal basis for the report’s conclusions.
As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Ratcliffe was heavily involved in a House GOP-led investigation last year about decisions “made and not made” by the Justice Department during the 2016 election. That probe questioned whether the department was biased against then-candidate Donald Trump and whether it abused surveillance powers as it began the Russia investigation.
In early 2019, he was picked by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to sit on the House intelligence committee, as well. On Sunday, McCarthy called Trump’s decision an “excellent nomination” and Ratcliffe “a man of character.”
Other Republican lawmakers such as Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House’s intelligence committee, also cheered the president’s plan to nominate Ratcliffe. The California Republican tweeted that Ratcliffe “understands the intricacies of the intelligence community as well as civil liberties.”
Democrats were cautious if not outright skeptical. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tweeted: “It’s clear Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to @realDonaldTrump with his demagogic questioning of Mueller. If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position requiring intelligence expertise & non-partisanship, it’d be a big mistake.”