President Donald Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats called on Congress to create an independent commission to oversee the 2020 election and denounced efforts to undermine Americans’ confidence in the legitimacy of U.S. elections in a New York Times op-ed Thursday.
As the head of the U.S. intelligence community until August 2019, Coats repeatedly warned that Russia, China and Iran were working aggressively to interfere in the U.S. election. In his op-ed, Coats said “democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic,” were working to chip away at its foundation.
He warned those enemies “want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.”
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Coats did not explicitly implicate Trump, but the president has been accused of contributing to all of the corrosive elements Coats decried. Trump has said he can only lose the election if it is stolen and that mailed-in ballots are being used to “rig” the election. He also routinely attacks the news media and claimed he is under siege from a “deep state” conspiracy against him.
Coats said that if democracy’s enemies succeed in casting doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections, “we are lost, no matter which candidate wins.”
“No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome,” he said.
“Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations,” he continued. “An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.”
During his time as Trump’s intelligence chief, he often butted heads with the president on election security – as well as refusing to support Trump’s claim about North Korean denuclearization and not labeling the U.S.-Mexico border as a top security threat.
In his new book, “Rage,” veteran journalist Bob Woodward writes that Coats never shook the feeling there was something suspicious about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that he saw Trump as an “unstable threat” to the country, who doesn’t “know the difference between the truth and a lie.”
In his op-ed, Coats said that in order to reestablish confidence in elections and “unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted,” Congress should pass emergency legislation to create a “supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election.” He also called on both campaigns to commit in advance to accepting the commission’s findings.
“No member of Congress could have any valid reason to reject any step that could contribute to the fundamental health of our Republic,” Coats said.
That commission would be tasked with making sure the laws and regulations regarding states’ vote-counting are “scrupulously” followed, that the public be informed about election interference activities “in a timely manner” and that any election interference is referred to the proper law enforcement agency.
Coats, a former senator from Indiana, said the bipartisan commission should include “congressional leaders, current and former governors, ‘elder statespersons,’ former national security leaders, perhaps the former Supreme Court justices David Souter and Anthony Kennedy, and business leaders from social media companies.”
He said those members should be “personally committed – by oath – to put partisan politics aside even in the midst of an electoral contest of such importance.”
Coats was unambiguous about his belief that the future of American democracy was at stake, writing that voters aren’t just choosing a president, but deciding “whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.”
He exhorted his former colleagues to unanimously adopt his idea.
“If we fail to take every conceivable effort to ensure the integrity of our election, the winners will not be Donald Trump or Joe Biden, Republicans or Democrats. The only winners will be Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Ali Khamenei,” he wrote. “No one who supports a healthy democracy could want that.”
Contributing: Maureen Groppe