President Donald Trump defended Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to reporters on Tuesday, calling him a “brilliant” man as his nominee for director of national intelligence faces criticism about his qualifications and political loyalties.
Trump’s praise came two days after announcing he had selected Ratcliffe to replace outgoing director Dan Coats on Sunday.
Ratcliffe has been critical of the Russia investigation and the CIA’s determination that Russia wanted Trump to win the 2016 election. He was also a particularly loud critic of Robert Mueller during the former special counsel’s testimony on Capitol Hill last week.
It’s those views, and strident loyalty to Trump, that is raising red flags for many Democrats.
Ratcliffe is “the most partisan and least qualified individual ever nominated to serve as Director of National Intelligence,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Monday in a release. “The sum total of his qualifications appears to be his record of promoting Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the investigation into Russian interference and calling for prosecution of Trump’s political enemies.”
Former CIA director John Brennan has also objected to Ratcliffe’s appointment, warning that the congressman would put Trump’s interests over the nation’s.
“Ratcliffe showed abject subservience to Trump in (the) Mueller hearings,” he tweeted on Monday. “The women & men in the Intelligence Community deserve a leader like Coats who puts (the) nation first; not a servile Trump loyalist like Ratcliffe.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also accused Trump of selecting Ratcliffe because of his “blind loyalty” to the president “with his demagogic questioning of Mueller.”
Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in contrast, have at least cautiously entertained Ratcliffe’s nomination.
The committee’s chairman Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina told the New York Times that they are unfamiliar with the congressman.
“I don’t know John Ratcliffe,” he told the paper. “I talked to him on the phone last night — it’s the first contact I’ve ever had with him. I look forward to getting to know him, and if I get an official nomination, I’ll process it through the committee.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also speaking with the Times, said he’s not concerned about Ratcliffe being “incapable of doing that job” though agreed that whoever is appointed needs “to make sure that the entire intelligence community is working in an apolitical way to arrive at a set of facts that policymakers can make decisions on.”
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