Rising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump’s intel chief | TheHill

Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeThe Hill’s 12: 30 Report: Trump, Sharpton feud over Baltimore attacks The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s new target: Elijah Cummings Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America MORE (R-Texas) has over the past two years grown from a relatively unknown lawmaker to a prominent member among House Republicans, in large part because of his role in investigating GOP allegations of wrongdoing by the Justice Department and FBI during the 2016 election.

Now, the Republican congressman and former U.S. attorney is the president’s pick to replace Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsThe Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s new target: Elijah Cummings Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America READ: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’s resignation letter MORE at the helm of the intelligence community.

Ratcliffe, 53, may face an uphill confirmation battle to become the head of the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). He is a new member of the House Intelligence Committee and has limited national security experience, which will be a point of criticism at least among Senate Democrats.

Trump’s decision to tap Ratcliffe for the role also represents a growing effort by the president to fill his cabinet with his political allies. That could prove a hurdle for the GOP lawmaker as he seeks to convince senators that he will provide an unvarnished, unbiased account of the nation’s intelligence and speak truth to power when necessary.

Ratcliffe has made multiple appearances on Fox News, where he has cast doubt on the credibility of the origins of the Russia investigation and trumpeted conservative allegations FBI agents were biased in their decision to open a probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Moscow.

On Sunday, Ratcliffe alleged that there were “crimes committed” during the Obama administration.

While Republicans argue they’re trying to hold government officials accountable, Democrats and some former intelligence members say their efforts are meant to undermine the intelligence community and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: ‘I’d like to know’ if Mueller read his own report MORE’s now-shuttered Russia investigation.

Ratcliffe’s allies are offering a steadfast defense of his character and abilities after his nomination announcement Sunday was met with criticism.

“You’re welcome to disagree with him on policy, but you cannot be around him without being struck by his fairness and his humility and his willingness to hear you out,” said former Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyCummings announces expansion of Oversight panel’s White House personal email probe, citing stonewalling Pelosi says it’s up to GOP to address sexual assault allegation against Trump Our sad reality: Donald Trump is no Eisenhower MORE (R-S.C.), the former Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who retired last year.

“He wound up becoming my best friend in the House after I did everything to keep him from getting to the House. Most people don’t do that,” Gowdy added, noting that he had endorsed Ratcliffe’s opponent, longtime incumbent Rep. Ralph HallRalph Moody HallRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump’s intel chief Former Texas GOP Rep. Ralph Hall dead at 95 GOP fights off primary challengers in deep-red Texas MORE (R-Texas), when he first made a run for Congress in 2014. Ratcliffe ended up defeating Hall in a runoff.

Gowdy, who was among Ratcliffe’s closest friends in the House, also played a role in raising Ratcliffe’s name to the president, stating in an interview with The Hill that he first requested a meeting with Trump to propose Ratcliffe as a possible candidate for attorney general.

But as prolonged government shutdown and other matters popped up, the meeting Gowdy requested with Trump was ultimately pushed back until after the president had already announced William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFormer public defender: DOJ plan to resume federal executions a ‘recipe for problems’ The death penalty is racially biased, fiscally irresponsible and very inaccurate Trump starts another day with Cummings attack: ’25 years of all talk, no action!’ MORE as his pick to lead the Justice Department. Still, Gowdy praised Ratcliffe during a golf outing with the president after his Barr appointment, to which Trump indicated he would keep the Texas Republican in mind for other similar positions.

Still, Ratcliffe currently appears to be somewhat of an unknown quantity among GOP members in the upper chamber, unlike Coats, a former senator from Indiana. A number of GOP senators – including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s new target: Elijah Cummings Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America Largest Senate GOP group to run first ads for 2020 MORE (R-Ky.) – released statements praising Coats and lamenting his departure without mentioning Ratcliffe’s nomination.

When asked about Ratcliffe on Monday, Intelligence Committee member Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Oversight chair plans to call drug executives to testify on costs | Biden airs anti-‘Medicare for All’ video | House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted kids Collins says she hasn’t decided on 2020 run, criticizes ‘dark money groups’ Progressive media group launches ‘Get Mitch or Die Trying’ campaign to flip Senate MORE (R-Maine) said she didn’t know Ratcliffe “at all” and that she has “special interest” in the position because it was established under a 2004 law she co-wrote.

“I feel very strongly about this position and the importance of having someone with the integrity and skill and ability to bring all of the members of the intelligence together,” Collins said.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHouse passes anti-robocall bill GOP leaders struggle to contain conservative anger over budget deal Grassley gambles on drug price bill despite GOP doubts MORE (R-S.D.) said he would wait until Ratcliffe’s confirmation process to make a judgment, but noted Ratcliffe has “really good credentials,” having handled sensitive cases as a U.S. attorney.

Thune also predicted that his ability to push back against the president would come up at his confirmation hearing.

“We need that in that position and I’m sure that will be one of the areas of questions that he’ll get,” Thune said.

Ratcliffe has earned praise from Trump confidantes, such as Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThis week: Senate races to wrap up work before recess Trump allies spike ball after Supreme Court decision on border wall McConnell under fire for burying election bills in ‘legislative graveyard’ MORE (R-S.C.), who tweeted that Ratcliffe “will be a worthy successor and has my full support,” and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill’s Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats step up attacks ahead of Detroit debate More than 1,400 Jewish clergy call on Trump, Congress to allow asylum-seekers into US Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (R), a fellow Texan.

Ratcliffe is aligned closely with Trump in his criticisms of the Russia investigation — in contrast with Coats, whose public pronouncements on Russian interference, Iran and other issues have put him at odds with Trump at various points in the administration.

Coats has been widely praised for telling “truth to power.”

Trump is said to have soured on Coats months ago, opening up a flood of rumors about potential replacements, including Ratcliffe, who catapulted himself further into the spotlight last week with his aggressive questioning of former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Ratcliffe launched into a blistering attack on Mueller’s report during the special counsel’s testimony on Capitol Hill, suggesting Mueller violated Justice Department rules by explicitly declining to exonerate Trump of allegations of obstruction of justice.

“It was not the special counsel’s job to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or to exonerate him because the bedrock principle of our justice system is presumption of innocence. It exists for everyone,” Ratcliffe said, raising his voice. “Everyone is entitled to it — even sitting presidents.”

The multiple headlines also led some to claim Ratcliffe was auditioning for the job. Gowdy, however, says he would have pursued that line of questioning regardless.

Ratcliffe, who has been in Congress under five years, sits on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees, and is a former federal terrorism prosecutor, which his proponents argue qualifies him for the national security role.

But beyond his time in Congress, Ratcliffe has virtually no official intelligence or foreign policy experience — a rarity for intelligence nominees. Coats, however, similarly moved to the ODNI role with limited official intelligence experience.

Critics are wary of his statements criticizing the FBI and have questioned his qualifications. Some worry that Ratcliffe is too political and wouldn’t maintain the independence from Trump that Coats did.

“I think [Coats] has done a good of a job as anyone could have done in preserving the integrity and function of the intelligence community across the board,” Steve Cash, an ex-CIA officer and former chief counsel to Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats urge Graham to back down from rules change threat Senate Democrats introduce bill to combat foreign influence campaigns Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument MORE (D-Calif.), told The Hill, calling Ratcliffe the “polar opposite.”

“He is neither a professional nor has he exhibited any evidence that he understands or even cares about the proper function of the intelligence community in protecting America,” Cash said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSharpton: Trump has ‘particular venom’ for blacks, people of color McConnell under fire for burying election bills in ‘legislative graveyard’ Washington Post columnist accuses McConnell of doing ‘Putin’s bidding’ MORE (D-N.Y.) alleged that Ratcliffe was only offered the role “because he exhibited blind loyalty to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSharpton: Trump has ‘particular venom’ for blacks, people of color Trump signs 9/11 compensation fund bill alongside first responders Trump continues assault on Fed: It ‘has made all of the wrong moves’ MORE with his demagogic questioning of” Mueller.

Ratcliffe’s supporters, however dispute claims he would unquestionably serve the president, pointing to various times in Ratcliffe showed an independent streak and bucked both his base and his party.

“[The] first vote he cast in Congress was one of independence from what his base wanted him to do. He voted for BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThis little engine delivers results for DC children Boehner won’t say whether he’d back Biden over Trump The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE. And I bet you that was the least popular vote he cast his first term in Congress, and it was the first vote he cast,” Gowdy said, referring to a GOP vote to give former House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThis little engine delivers results for DC children Boehner won’t say whether he’d back Biden over Trump The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE (R-Ohio) another two-year term in 2014.

Ratcliffe is more likely than not to be confirmed barring major controversy, given the Republican majority in the Senate. Coats similarly moved to the ODNI role with limited official intelligence experience.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a bruising battle for Ratcliffe, who is sure to face scrutiny of his past comments during his confirmation hearing.

Coats, who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee and as U.S. ambassador to Germany, was approved easily in a 85-12 vote in March 2017. Other Trump nominees for national security posts, like CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff A brief timeline of Trump’s clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Trump approved Iranian strike before pulling back: report MORE, have proven more controversial but were confirmed narrowly in the end.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Senate Intel releases election security report | GOP blocks votes on election security bills | Gabbard sues Google over alleged censorship | Barr meets state AGs on tech antitrust concerns Senate Intel finds ‘extensive’ Russian election interference going back to 2014 McConnell says he has no plans to watch Mueller testimony MORE (R-N.C.) did not offer an explicit endorsement of Ratcliffe in a statement Tuesday, but said he called to “congratulate” the Texas Republican on Sunday and pledged to “swiftly” act on the nomination once it’s official.

While his support in the Senate has yet to fully become clear, Ratcliffe is widely liked by Republicans in the House, where he formed various powerful friendships with a variety of members from the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus group to more moderate Republicans, and party leaders.

GOP members consider Ratcliffe their star questioner, so much so that the Texas lawmaker jumped past more senior members on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees to press Mueller last Wednesday, following the two committees’ Republican ranking members.

He also has formed various ties with Democrats in the House, particularly with his focus on cyber, including election security matters. He has co-sponsored multiple cyber-focused bills with Democrats like Reps. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinOvernight Defense: Trump says he doesn’t need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales House passes bill to establish DHS cyber ‘first responder’ teams Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (R.I.), Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesDemocrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress The Hill’s 12: 30 Report: Trump creates new firestorm with ‘go back’ remarks MORE (Conn.), and Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocrats see window closing for impeachment The Hill’s Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps On The Money: House to vote on budget deal Thursday | US, China resuming trade talks next week | Mnuchin backs DOJ tech antitrust probe MORE (D-Calif.).

Jordain Carney contributed.

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