Trump’s first director, Coats, had no such experience, aside from a brief stint on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but he had developed expertise on military issues. George W. Bush was even set to nominate him as secretary of defense until a job interview, where Coats displayed insufficient enthusiasm for an elaborate missile-defense system. (Vice President Dick Cheney then suggested that Donald Rumsfeld—who had planned to be CIA director—be nominated instead. History might have been different if Bush hadn’t been so keen on anti-missile missiles.)
Coats’ washout in the audition—his disinclination to say what Bush wanted him to say, just to get the job—spoke well for his character. As DNI, he has immersed himself in the work, diligently represented the views of the intelligence agencies, and shielded the other agencies from Trump’s wrath, taking much of the heat himself. And there has been a lot of heat to take.
Among other things, the DNI gives the president his daily intelligence briefing, and in those reports, as well as in his testimony to Congress, Coats has concluded that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons program, that North Korea was unlikely to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, that ISIS was still an active terrorist organization, and that top Russian officials interfered in the 2016 election—all of which contradicted Trump’s views. At times, Trump has even publicly sided with assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over the findings of the intelligence community.