Did this interview get John Ratcliffe the job as ODNI? Naah, but it likely didn’t hurt either. Just a few hours before Donald Trump announced Ratcliffe as the replacement for Dan Coats, whose “retirement” had been rumored for weeks, the House Judiciary and Intelligence member demanded aggressive investigations into the Obama administration’s role in key leaks in the Russia-collusion investigation (via The Daily Wire):
Ratcliffe says he wants a particular focus on three events to see if crimes can be charged:
He noted a leak of classified National Security Agency transcripts of a phone call that Michael Flynn had in 2016 with Russia’s ambassador to The Washington Post.
“That’s a felony,” Ratcliffe said of the leak.
Ratcliffe also noted discrepancies between congressional testimonies given by Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
Simpson told the House Intelligence Committee that he met Ohr, whose wife was a Fusion GPS contractor, after the 2016 election. But Ohr testified that he and Simpson met in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 22, 2016.
“One of them is not telling the truth,” said Ratcliffe. “We need a process to identify that.”
He then shifted to former FBI Director James Comey’s leak of memos of his conversations with Trump to the press.
“He admitted that he leaked his confidential conversations with the president to a reporter. Did that include classified information? We need a fair process to find out the answer to that,” Ratcliffe said.
You’re hired! Actually, this speaks against the job-interview issue, as does Ratcliffe’s cross-examination of Robert Mueller last week. If Ratcliffe wants to push for criminal investigations, the ODNI is the last place you’d choose to go. Even as a minority member of the House, Ratcliffe has more influence on potential congressional investigations in his current position than as the director of national intelligence, which is not a prosecutorial post. With that agenda, Ratcliffe might have wanted the Attorney General’s slot that ended up going to William Barr, although Ratcliffe apparently was on a list or two for the job as well.
Besides, it’s a moot point, as Ratcliffe implicitly acknowledges. We already have an investigation into these matters, thanks to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has the added value of independence from Trump to bolster his credibility. Early rumors suggest that the conclusions might be a blockbuster. If so, then Trump doesn’t need Ratcliffe quiet on these matters as ODNI, and it’s probably too late to use him as a source too.
So what about Ratcliffe’s other qualifications? Raw Story lists five reasons that Ratcliffe is a terrible choice for ODNI, which might have been taken more seriously if #5 wasn’t “adamantly opposes net neutrality.” (No, I’m not kidding.) Democrats are complaining about Ratcliffe’s “blind loyalty” to Trump, but it’s tough to credit shock, shock over presidents appointing people they trust to key positions in an administration.
That doesn’t make his confirmation a slam dunk. Republicans have a few reservations too, the New York Times reports, including the man who would have to lead the confirmation effort:
Some Republicans, however, privately expressed concern, including Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who cautioned the president’s advisers that he considered Mr. Ratcliffe too political for the post, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mr. Trump disregarded the warning. …
Mr. Ratcliffe comes with significant advantages: He has served on the House Intelligence Committee and worked on counterterrorism initiatives. He is viewed as smart by Republicans who have worked with him, and he has a previous relationship with Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, from their time serving in the Bush administration.
But he had little intelligence background before arriving in Congress even though the law requires “extensive national security expertise” for the position, and intelligence veterans expressed alarm at what they worry was the politicization of the position.
Keep an eye on Burr. If he expresses support for Ratcliffe, then there won’t be any problems at all with getting to 51 on a confirmation vote. If Burr stays quiet, then there may be trouble ahead. Ratcliffe might want to keep his re-election campaign in place for a while.