The Senate confirms John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence

WASHINGTON – A divided Senate confirmed Representative John Ratcliffe as President Trump’s National Intelligence Director, with the majority of Republicans prevailing over Democrats saying the Texas congressman was too partisan and did not qualify for the work.

Thursday’s 49-44 vote to confirm Mr. Ratcliffe fell along the party lines. The five previous Senate-confirmed National Intelligence Directors were approved either by unanimous consensus or by overwhelming majority.

Once sworn in, Mr. Ratcliffe will take over the role of DNI Richard Grenell in the task of overseeing and coordinating 17 US intelligence agencies with combined budgets of over $ 80 billion and responsibilities that include human espionage, wiretapping, and the operation of spy satellites.

Mr. Ratcliffe, who has served in the House since 2015, will be the first intelligence czar confirmed by the Senate since August, when Dan Coats resigned after a term marked by friction with Trump.

Congressman and former U.S. attorney takes over at a time of challenges overseas, including an increasingly confident China and North Korea’s arms programs, and at home, where traditionally non-partisan collecting and intelligence analysis has become the subject of bitter controversy.

During his confirmation hearing earlier this month before the Senate Secret Service Committee, Ratcliffe pledged to provide intelligence insights free of political influence.

“John Ratcliffe will lead the intelligence community in countering threats from great powers, rogue nations and terrorists and ensuring that work is not tainted with political bias,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky. ) Before the vote on Thursday.

Mr. Grenell was seen by Congressional Democrats as a partisan political ally of the president. In recent weeks, he has declassified some information into what some Democrats and other critics say is an effort to discredit previous investigations into former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the links between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. , probes that Trump supporters saw as politically motivated attacks.

This month, Mr. Grenell released a list of Obama administration officials who had called for the “unmasking” of a US citizen named in intelligence reports. Those requests revealed that that person was Mr. Flynn, who later pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Grenell, who holds his post as U.S. ambassador to Germany, has also made political and personnel decisions that angered Democratic lawmakers, including the sacking of the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, the largest unit in the ODNI. .

It succeeded another interim intelligence chief, Joseph Maguire, who was ousted in February after Trump expressed displeasure at an intelligence official’s briefing in Congress about Moscow’s plans to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

Thursday’s close vote highlighted partisan differences on intelligence matters, as well as concerns among Democrats over Ratcliffe’s qualifications and independence.

Some Democratic senators have said that Mr. Ratcliffe would not have been able to tell the president unpleasant truths, particularly criticizing him for refusing to approve the conclusions of the US intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee to which Russia has partly interfered in the 2016 presidential election. help Mr. Trump.

“For John Ratcliffe, intelligence doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it makes Donald Trump happy, and if Donald Trump doesn’t want to acknowledge that the Russians helped him, then those are John Ratcliffe’s marching orders, “said Senator Ron Wyden, (D., Oregon) “It’s the exact opposite of telling the truth to power: it’s total surrender to power.”

Republicans stressed the importance of having an intelligence chief who has been confirmed by the Senate rather than appointed on a narrator basis.

“It’s really important in terms of, on the executive side, to have someone there that everyone who works for them knows is confirmed by the Senate,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R., Florida), acting chair of the Committee of intelligence. “I met him. I think it will do a great job. “

This was Mr. Ratcliffe’s second test of the intelligence director’s job. Trump announced plans to appoint him in July, but the Congressman withdrew his name after a lukewarm response from some Senate Republicans and questions about whether Ratcliffe had inflated his resume to reflect more intelligence expertise. , an allegation he denied.

Presented by the White House with a choice between Mr. Ratcliffe and Mr. Grenell – who had no prior intelligence experience and as interim director would retain greater independence from Congressional scrutiny – some lawmakers were willing to give the Texas Republican a other aspect, congressional aides said.

Although Mr. Ratcliffe does not have a long track record in intelligence matters, during his current Congressional term he was a member of the House Intelligence Committee and claimed to have been involved in numerous terrorism-related cases when he was a US attorney in Texas.

Write to Warren P. Strobel at [email protected]

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