Senate approves Trump political ally as US intelligence czar

The US Senate confirmed John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence Thursday, placing a close political ally of President Donald Trump in charge of a massive US spy community that Trump brands a troublesome “deep state”.

The Senate voted 49-44 on sharply partisan lines to approve Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman from Texas, ten months after he first withdrew from consideration for the job amid broad doubts about his qualifications.

He will lead the country’s 17 federal intelligence bodies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency, and be responsible for coordinating them with the White House.

In July, Trump forced out Dan Coats as director of national intelligence after longstanding tensions between the two, and then struggled to find a suitable replacement.

– Trump’s first choice –

Ratcliffe was his first choice, but he dropped out after strong criticism from Democrats and tepid support from key Republicans. 

Trump then named counterterrorism expert Joseph McGuire as acting director. 

But he forced McGuire out on February 20 after another official from the directorate told Congress in a closed briefing that the Russians were again supporting Trump’s bid for reelection.

Trump has rejected the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow helped his 2016 election campaign.

Trump then appointed another loyalist with limited intelligence experience, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, as acting director.

Grenell forced out several officials of the directorate not seen as loyal to Trump, and announced reorganizations without informing Congress as is required.

He has also refused to appear before Congress, and intelligence briefings for senior legislators have dwindled, leading to complaints that Trump is not keeping Congress informed.

So when Ratcliffe was renominated, Republican senators opted to support him as someone they could better work with.

Senator Marco Rubio, named earlier this week as acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, welcomed the approval of Ratcliffe’s nomination.

“In a time when the threats to our nation are many and varied, it is critical to have a Senate-confirmed DNI ensuring the wide array of intelligence agencies are sharing information across lines, coordinating capabilities, and working in the furtherance of our nation’s security using 21st century, cutting edge capabilities,” Rubio said in a statement.

“Director Ratcliffe understands this responsibility, and I am confident that he will fulfill all of the roles assigned to the DNI with integrity.”

In his confirmation hearing before the Intelligence Committee on May 5, Ratcliffe pledged to “speak truth to power” and said he would not shape intelligence reports to the president’s preferences.

He also said he views China as the country’s greatest threat, saying Beijing was determined to supplant the United States as the world’s leading superpower.

“Look, with respect to COVID-19 and the role China plays; the race to 5G; cybersecurity issues — all roads lead to China,” he told the panel. 

“These are all spokes of the same initiative and that’s for China to supplant us as the world’s superpower.”