I asked on Tuesday whether Ratcliffe was about to be roadblocked by the Senate GOP and got pushback from smart tapped-in Republican friends who said nah, no way. Trump might lose Collins and Murkowski but unless a true scandal bomb detonated over Ratcliffe he’d be reluctantly confirmed. He had just enough natsec credentials to justify a yes vote, six months on the House Intel Committee plus a few years in the U.S. Attorney’s office in east Texas in which he handled some terror cases.
Three days later, he’s out.
….John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country. I will be announcing my nomination for DNI shortly.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2019
This is being spun as a failure of vetting by the White House — again — which is partly true. It turns out that not only was Ratcliffe’s intel resume thin to begin with, it was even thinner than he portrayed it. Ed noted earlier that he apparently overstated his role in the Holy Land Foundation trials. And reporters dug around and found that Ratcliffe’s history of counterterrorism as a prosecutor didn’t result in many convictions — or prosecutions:
Here's what DOJ's internal case management records show about Rep. Ratcliffe's time as a federal prosecutor:
He worked on 43 cases that DOJ designated as having something to do with terrorism. Two of those cases led to criminal charges. pic.twitter.com/DzGHdEGmXl
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) August 2, 2019
The only terror-related conviction the office obtained was for Social Security fraud. Natsec veterans also questioned one of Ratcliffe’s key anti-terror credentials:
Ratcliffe is presumably referring to the Anti-terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC) Coordinator, a role that is nowhere near as significant as Ratcliffe has represented.
— katrina mulligan (@NatSecMulligan) August 1, 2019
They also ensure connectivity back to the National Security Division if certain terrorism charges are being considered (uncommon in the Eastern District of Texas). And there’s a training for ATACs once a year, so there’s that. (I’ve been! It’s at the NAC).
— katrina mulligan (@NatSecMulligan) August 1, 2019
It’s an administrative role, says Mulligan, not an intelligence role. With all of those strikes against him, the White House apparently began wondering if they’d have 50 votes in the Senate:
Trump privately voiced concern in recent days about Ratcliffe’s ability to be confirmed as the next director of national intelligence, according to two people who spoke with him. Trump had been assured by allies before selecting Ratcliffe that he would be an easy pick, and so the president was surprised when Ratcliffe started facing issues from senators who had their own concerns…
“The nomination was greeted with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. The Senators don’t know Congressman Ratcliffe, and none of them seemed eager to champion his nomination. The only positive from the administration’s standpoint was that the nomination got lost in the combination of the usual pre-August recess scramble and the Democratic presidential debates,” a Senate GOP aide said.
A source familiar with the situation also told CNN that some senior administration officials had reservations about whether Ratcliffe was the right person for the job and were raising questions about whether he could be confirmed.
It wasn’t just the lack of experience. I think Republican senators were leery of Ratcliffe’s reputation as a yes-man for POTUS, the sort of guy who’d side with him out of loyalty in questioning the professional assessment of U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in 2016 to help Trump. Ratcliffe actually showed his cards on that in questioning Bob Mueller at last week’s hearing, asking whether Russia might have conceivably intervened to help *Clinton.* I think the Collinses and Cory Gardners of the world didn’t want an up-or-down vote on whether to rubber-stamp a guy like that, knowing that it would turn into a proxy vote on whether the official view of U.S. intel on Russian interference was correct or not. And they probably weren’t thrilled with Ratcliffe’s reported plans to “clean house” at DNI and replace the people there with God knows who. Lack of experience gave them a neutral reason to oppose him without having to speak up about Trump’s fondness for yes-men.
Which makes this the third time in the past few months that they’ve blocked Trump in that regard. (Trump loyalists Stephen Moore and Herman Cain were initially touted for the Fed, rememeber.) Some Republicans are kicking around Will Hurd’s name as a potential replacement nominee, since Hurd just announced that he’s leaving the House and has intelligence experience from his time at the CIA. Seems unlikely, though: One of Hurd’s ongoing political problems was that he wasn’t a yes-man for Trump, having criticized him repeatedly on immigration. Trump wouldn’t trust him to ride herd on the intelligence bureaus to the extent that their assessments conflict with Trump’s policy goals. The sort of guy whom Trump would want, and whom the base would want, as DNI is Devin Nunes, who might be the ultimate test of whether the Republican Senate would approve a yes-man for POTUS. Unlike Ratcliffe, Nunes does have meaningful intelligence experience from his time chairing the House Intel Committee. But the left hates him, and the Collinses and Gardners would get nervous again about installing someone who’s more likely than a career bureaucrat would be to politicize intelligence. We shall see.
Speaking of career bureaucrats, your exit question: What’s Trump’s problem with Sue Gordon, the number two in the DNI’s office? It’s one thing for the president to want to bring in a new director, quite another to refuse to let Gordon deliver a briefing in the White House. What gives?