The Senate voted 49-44 to confirm Ratcliffe as Trump’s second permanent director of national intelligence, with all of the Democrats opposed. Straight-line party voting was a first for a post created after the September 2001 terrorist attacks – before Thursday, there were never more than a dozen senators who voted against a candidate for the post of director of the national intelligence.
Trump originally chose Ratcliffe last year to be his spy chief after Ratcliffe’s aggressive interrogation of former special advocate Robert Mueller, and Trump’s decision to extend Ratcliffe this year came after he was a key advocate for the Speaker in the removal of the House.
In his new position, Ratcliffe will play a key role in deciding which documents will be released in the midst of an election amid congressional investigations that target Obama administration officials and Trump’s opponent in 2020, l former vice president Joe Biden.
Ratcliffe will also now be a key decision maker in the reorganization of the office of the director of national intelligence after outgoing acting director Richard Grenell began a major overhaul during his short tenure.
When Trump appointed Ratcliffe in 2019, he said he did it because the intelligence community “went wild”. Ratcliffe pulled out last year amid questions about hype over his resume and partisan record, but Trump’s views on the intelligence community have only hardened since Trump chose Ratcliffe a second time in February.
A CNN review of Ratcliffe’s testimony, television interviews and participation in the removal of the Chamber provides clues to how Ratcliffe will deal with the many politically sensitive issues he faces at the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“I have not served in an intelligence agency. I think bringing a different kind of experience today is really going to be vitally important, “Ratcliffe told CBS News Catherine Herridge after her appointment in March.
“You know that all the experience in the world is not useful without judgment, and I think we have seen that some of our most experienced intelligence officers have been wrong on important issues,” said Ratcliffe.
At his confirmation hearing, Ratcliffe pledged to be an independent voice providing assessments of information to the president, even those that Trump does not want to hear. But Democrats say they remain skeptical that Ratcliffe will lose his track record for the Russia investigation and electoral interference when he joins the Trump administration.
“He gave carefully crafted answers, not answers that at least left me with the idea that he would protect the community that is currently under attack,” said Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the highest Democrat on the panel. .
A fight against declassification
Ratcliffe’s appointment came after Trump Grenell, the acting director and a fierce Trump loyalist, was appointed acting director in February. Grenell provided Congress with several recently declassified documents relating to the FBI investigation of Russia and the prosecution of Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.
Grenell, who is also the US ambassador to Germany, was assaulted by Democrats for politicizing intelligence and providing fodder to the White House and Trump’s campaign to attack Biden and former President Barack Obama from a nameless crime.
The documents Grenell declassified included a memo that Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice sent to herself and a list of more than three dozen people in the Obama administration who have made requests to “unmask” during Trump’s transition, where some authorized American officials may request to see names of Americans hidden in foreign intelligence reports.
Grenell’s time at ODNI may be short, but requests from members of Congress are not. This week, the GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa have asked Grenell for additional names of Obama administration officials who have made “unmask” requests involving campaign members Trump.
The Democrats are also now asking Grenell to declassify the content of Flynn’s calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who are at the center of Flynn’s guilty plea that the Justice Department decided to reject this month.
Ratcliffe has been deeply involved in questioning the FBI investigation into Russia. He was one of the leading lawmakers to file depositions during the 2018 Republican House investigation and was one of the first lawmakers to consult the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s classified warrants on Councilor Trump, Carter Page.
Ratcliffe focused most of his attention on the FBI’s problems with Page’s warrants, which were detailed in the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s report released in December. But he said the problems with the investigation went beyond what the report alleged – and suggested that the intelligence community could also be in the crosshairs of Attorney General William Barr’s investigation of the FBI investigation into Russia , being led by US prosecutor John Durham.
“I think the FBI people are horrified and dismayed by what is in this report. And it will only get worse, I think, by what John Durham finds, because he has the ability to go out and talk to the intelligence communities, “Ratcliffe said in an interview with Fox News in December after publication of the Inspector General’s report.
“What we have been told over and over again, the Trump-Russia investigation, starting in July 2016, when there is very clear evidence of previous activities involving law enforcement and security services intelligence, “Ratcliffe told Fox in February.
Much of Ratcliffe’s attacks on the Russian probe were directed against FBI officials like former director James Comey and problems with the opposition’s research file on Trump and Russia – as well as the president’s House Intelligence, Adam Schiff, a Californian democrat who heads the House. oversight of the intelligence community, Ratcliffe, will now be directed.
When asked at his confirmation hearing if he agreed that the intelligence community had “gone wild”, Ratcliffe replied that he had not.
Ask Intel about Russian interference
Ratcliffe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee just days after the panel released a bipartisan report confirming the 2017 intelligence community’s assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 elections in an effort to help Trump win.
The assessment was notably at odds with Trump’s deep skepticism about Russia’s interference – and the 2018 Republican House Intelligence Committee report which questioned the intelligence community’s assessment that the Russia preferred Trump in 2016.
Ratcliffe sought to draw a fine line between the two positions, agreeing that Russia intervened but declined on several occasions to weigh on Russia’s goals.
“I was not on the committee at the time. I respect both committees, but I have not seen the underlying information to tell me why there is a difference of opinion between the two committees, “said Ratcliffe.
Interference in the Russian elections will be central to Ratcliffe’s position before the 2020 elections. It was a briefing on Russia’s intentions in 2020 that led to the dismissal of the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire earlier this year, before Ratcliffe’s appointment of Trump and Grenell’s installation as interim spy chief.
Ratcliffe will also be responsible for declassifying the final installment of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s three-year investigation into electoral interference in Russia. The volume, which totals approximately 1,000 pages, details the committee’s counterintelligence investigation and contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials during the election.
Warner and Richard Burr, then President of the Senate, who has since temporarily resigned in the midst of an FBI investigation into his stock market transactions, asked Ratcliffe to finish the redactions before the Senate’s suspension in August – and the election season fall.
“I will work with you to get this declassification as quickly as possible,” said Ratcliffe.
Ratcliffe accused Ukraine of exposing the lie
Ratcliffe was one of Trump’s most vocal advocates in last year’s removal hearings from the House, serving on both the intelligence and judicial commissions of the House.
In this role, Ratcliffe questioned the anonymous whistle-blower complaint alleging that Trump had requested election assistance to train Ukraine while refusing US security assistance, accusing the whistleblower of providing false statements to the Inspector General.
“The president was not caught. The whistleblower was caught. The whistleblower made false statements. The whistleblower was caught with President Schiff, “said Ratcliffe at a judicial commission hearing in December 2019 before a panel vote on the impeachment articles.
While Ratcliffe did not call for the identity of the whistleblower, other Republicans in Congress – and Trump – pushed him during the impeachment debate. Democrats and national security experts have expressed concern that the attacks on the whistleblower will have a deterrent effect on future whistleblowers in the intelligence community.
At his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Ratcliffe argued that he was not attacking the whistleblower, but rather criticized the Democrats’ haste to dismissal. He said he wanted to be clear “all past, present and future whistleblowers will benefit from all the protections provided by law.”
“My problem was not with the whistleblower; my problem was with what I saw as a lack of due process in the House process, ”said Ratcliffe. “I don’t want to go back to litigation, so I’ll leave it at that, but every whistleblower can expect full protection under the law. “
When asked if Trump’s comments on the intelligence community were damaging it, Ratcliffe told the Senate panel that he hoped not, but his goal was not to fight old battles.
“I think the feeling I heard from the president is that it’s not the intelligence community at large, these are specific individuals and pointing, you know, for example, overuse of the intelligence services intelligence by some people, “said Ratcliffe. “But again, my goal is that I want to look forward, not backward. I think that is one of the reasons why I want this opportunity. “
This story was updated with additional developments on Thursday.