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Trump To Nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe To Top Intelligence Post

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, is President Trump's pick to be the next Director of National Intelligence.
Andrew Harrer
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, is President Trump's pick to be the next Director of National Intelligence.

Updated at 8:01 p.m. ET

Rep. John Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor and a vocal Republican defender of President Trump throughout last year's impeachment proceedings, will be nominated to be the next director of national intelligence, Trump announced Friday.

The director role is a critical one at the top of the intelligence community, which encompasses more than a dozen separate agencies and organizations including the CIA and the FBI.

"John is an outstanding man of great talent!" Trump tweeted.

The announcement comes exactly seven months after Trump last announced the same news.

The president said he would be nominating Ratcliffe for the post last July, but days later backed down from that plan amid questions about whether Senate Republicans would back the selection, and reports in the press about past overstatements regarding Ratcliffe's record.

"Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people...." Trump tweeted then. "John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country."

It's unclear what has changed from then until now that made Ratcliffe a more viable choice for the post.

The DNI serves as the "principal advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to national security," according to the department website.

Many critics have also questioned whether Ratcliffe is too much of a Trump loyalist to be relied upon to give impartial guidance to the president or unbiased information to Congress and the public.

Last year's impeachment proceedings will only fuel those concerns. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Ratcliffe had a front-and-center role in attacking the credibility of House Democrats' case regarding the Trump administration's decision to link Ukrainian foreign aid to politically motivated investigations.

"Today Democrats are the Founders' worst nightmare come true," Ratcliffe said on the House floor, before the body voted to impeach Trump in December. "I think most Americans are probably wishing they could impeach the Democrats. To them I say — you can, next November."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Ratcliffe a "highly partisan operative" in a statement after the announcement, and said the selection shows Trump's "lack of respect for the rule of law and the intelligence community."

"At a time when the Russians are interfering in our elections, we need a nonpartisan leader at the helm of the Intelligence Community who sees the world objectively and speaks truth to power," Schumer said, adding that neither Rep. Ratcliffe nor Acting Director Richard Grenell will do those things.

Trump named Grenell acting director earlier this month, and his appointment garnered similarly harsh criticism because he has no background in intelligence nor top-level management experience.

Ratcliffe, however, does have some of that experience. He served from 2004-2012 as the mayor of Heath, Texas, a city northeast of Dallas with a population of about 8,000 people.

And he also served as a U.S. attorney from 2007-08.

But he has attracted questions about that time period, specifically about misrepresenting his role in winning terrorism convictions and arresting hundreds of "illegal aliens in a single day."

Shortly after the announcement, a number of legal analysts and academics speculated that the Ratcliffe announcement was nothing more than a ploy to allow the acting director, Grennell, to stay in his post past the March 11 date he is legally supposed to be replaced by.

"Even if there's no real chance that Ratcliffe will be confirmed by the Senate, the formal submission of his nomination will allow [Grenell] to continue to serve as Acting DNI past March 11 — and for another 210 days after Ratcliffe's rejection or withdrawal," tweeted Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

Senate Republicans, who control the body, have yet to react to the nomination en masse to give an understanding of the likelihood of Ratcliffe's confirmation.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., released a statement saying he appreciated the dedication the intelligence community has shown in the time of transition, since Dan Coats announced his intention to step down last summer, and Joseph Maguire resigned from the acting director position earlier this month.

"I look forward to receiving Congressman Ratcliffe's official nomination and ushering it through the Senate's regular order," Burr said, which mirrored almost exactly what he said when Ratcliffe was nominated in July.

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Corrected: February 28, 2020 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous version of this story incorrectly called Chuck Schumer the Senate majority leader. He is the Senate minority leader.
Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.