John Ratcliffe out for National Intelligence Director
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Friday that Rep. John Ratcliffe is withdrawing his bid to become Director of National Intelligence, days after the president floated his name.
The announcement comes after Democrats and some Republicans have raised questions about whether the Texas congressman exaggerated his work as federal prosecutor of terrorism cases. Others questioned Ratcliffe’s experience and whether he could give the president unvarnished advice on Russia given his strong partisan views.
Trump said he thought Ratcliffe “was being treated very unfairly.”
“He doesn’t deserve it,” the president told reporters at the White House.
Trump announced Sunday that Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator who has held the job since early 2017, would step down this month. Disagreements between Coats and Trump on Russia, North Korea and other matters have often spilled into public view.
Ratcliffe had described himself as a “terrorism prosecutor,” citing that as one of his key national security credentials.
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Justice Department records show Ratcliffe was assigned to more than 40 cases that officials said were related to terrorism. Only one of them led to criminal charges, and that case involved a man who was charged with using a stolen Social Security number to look for work. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail.
Ratcliffe on his website claimed that “as a U.S. Attorney, I arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day.” There is no evidence such a round-up ever happened.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it would be a “big mistake” for his GOP colleagues to “elevate” Ratcliffe “to a position that requires intelligence expertise and non-partisanship.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hedged this week on whether he would support Ratcliffe’s nomination.
Critics said the Ratcliffe incident underscores how poorly the Trump administration vets nominees, if they vet them at all. Trump has often announced plans to nominate someone to a post, then pulled back in the face of criticism or new information. Recent examples include two potential nominees for the Federal Reserve, Herman Cain and Stephen Moore.
“This is as close as Trump will ever get to acknowledging that the individual he nominated is so woefully under-qualified for DNI,” said Ned Price, a national security spokesman for the Barack Obama administration.
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Price said Ratcliffe would have had trouble winning Senate confirmation, given Republican anxiety.
He was “so extraordinarily hyper-partisan, and so brazenly deceitful in his resume, that he would’ve met a freight train even in a rubber stamp Senate,” Price said.
Defending Ratcliffe as “a very good man” who has “seen his reputation dragged through the mud,” GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said Trump needs “a process for nominations, including vetting, preparation, Hill outreach and roll out.”
He added: “Ready, fire, aim doesn’t work.”
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Trump dismissed concerns about the vetting process.
“You vet for me,” Trump said told reporters. “We save a lot of money that way.”
Ratcliffe unseated 17-term Rep. Ralph Hall in a 2014 primary election. Hall, first elected to Congress in 1980, was a Democrat who changed parties in 2004.
With tea-party support, Ratcliffe campaigned against Hall as a Washington insider who had been on Capitol Hill for too long. Hall, the oldest serving member of Congress when he left office at 91, claimed he once sold cigarettes to the notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
“While I am and will remain very grateful to the President for his intention to nominate me as Director of National Intelligence, I am withdrawing from consideration,” Ratcliffe posted on Twitter.
Contributing: Brad Heath, Will Cummings