WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump announced Republican lawmaker John Ratcliffe as his intelligence chief Friday, sparking fresh controversy over a crucial position that has lacked a permanent office holder for months.
The 53-year-old Trump loyalist was nominated as director of national intelligence after Dan Coats stepped down in July last year, but withdrew from consideration after strong criticism of his credentials from Democrats and a tepid response from key Republicans.
Trump instead named counterterrorism expert Joseph McGuire as acting director, overseeing the 17 agencies of the intelligence community including the CIA and National Security Agency.
But he forced McGuire out on February 20 after a senior intelligence official told Congress in a closed briefing that the Russians were again supporting Trump’s bid for re-election.
The revolving door continued to spin as Trump appointed another loyalist, Richard Grenell, two weeks ago. But the former ambassador to Germany had no relevant experience and was viewed as highly political.
Some intelligence experts view the latest nomination as a tactic by Trump to ensure that Grenell stays on beyond the statutory limit for ‘acting’ directors who haven’t been approved by the Senate.
‘The formal submission of his nomination will allow @RichardGrenell to continue to serve as Acting DNI past March 11 – and for another 210 days after Ratcliffe’s rejection or withdrawal,’ said University of Texas security law professor Steve Vladeck.
Ratcliffe has been an outspoken Trump defender, frequently appearing on Fox News to spread conspiracy theories and deny the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia tried to boost the president’s election effort in 2016.
Trump said Friday he had held back Ratcliffe’s formal nomination while an unspecified ‘inspector general report’ was being prepared.
‘John is an outstanding man of great talent!’ he tweeted.
BLURB: ‘The 53-year-old Trump loyalist was nominated as director of national intelligence last year, but withdrew from consideration after strong criticism of his credentials from Democrats’