President Donald Trump announced Friday that Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, his embattled pick to lead the nation’s intelligence community, was withdrawing from consideration and would remain in Congress.
The lawmaker was facing intense questions about padding his resume and a lack of experience, which led to a lukewarm reception on Capitol Hill.
Trump said he would announce a new pick for director of national intelligence shortly.
In tweets, Trump said that Ratcliffe was being treated “very unfairly” by the media.
“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 wrote. “John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country.”
In a statement issued shortly after Trump’s tweets, Ratcliffe said that he remained convinced that if confirmed by the Senate he would he would have served “with the objectivity, fairness and integrity that our intelligence agencies need and deserve.”
“However, I do not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue,” he said. “The country we all love deserves that it be treated as an American issue. Accordingly, I have asked the President to nominate someone other than me for this position.”
Trump made the announcement of Ratcliffe’s withdrawal shortly before appearing at a White House event to announce a new deal to sell more beef to the European Union. He ignored questions shouted by reporters about Ratcliffe’s withdrawal as he left the event.
One White House official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that Ratcliffe got cold feet because of the lack of support among Republican senators.
But inside the White House, at least some believed that while Ratcliffe would likely have faced an contentious nomination fight, Senate Republicans were ultimately unlikely to vote against a Trump nominee. Ratcliffe might have survived, and may have withdrawn too early, in the view of some.
Ratcliffe’s background has come under scrutiny since Trump announced Sunday that he planned to nominate the lawmaker to be the next director of national intelligence, replacing Daniel Coats, a longtime senator and diplomat who was often at odds with the president.
Although Ratcliffe had dialed back claims that he had won convictions in a high-profile terrorism case as a federal prosecutor, his planned nomination drew opposition from Senate Democrats and tepid support from key Republicans.
Some current and former intelligence officials have said Ratcliffe is the least-qualified person ever nominated to oversee the country’s intelligence agencies – previous directors have been former diplomats, senior intelligence officials and military leaders – and questioned whether he would use the position to serve Trump’s political interests.
The post was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to coordinate the 16 other agencies of the nation’s intelligence community.
Ratcliffe has been a staunch defender of the president and has alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI. Trump tweeted out his plan to nominate Ratcliffe several days after the lawmaker attacked former special counsel Robert Mueller during a hearing.
Congressional and intelligence officials have described Ratcliffe as a relatively disengaged member of the House Intelligence Committee and as little-known across the ranks of spy agencies he has been tapped to lead.
Though Rep. John Ratcliffe’s membership on the House committee is perhaps his most important credential for the top intelligence job, officials said he has yet to take part in one of its overseas trips to learn more about spy agencies’ work. The other new lawmakers on the panel have done so or are scheduled to travel in the coming months.
It is also unclear whether Ratcliffe has spent much time at the headquarters of the CIA, the National Security Agency or other parts of the sprawling U.S. intelligence community that he has been nominated to direct.
On Thursday, The Washington Post also reported that a Ratcliffe claim of a massive roundup immigrant workers at poultry plants in 2008 as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Texas was undercut by the court record and recollections of others who participated in the operation. Ratcliffe has often cited the arrests as a highlight of his career.
In a statement, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he respected Ratcliffe’s decision to withdraw from consideration.
“As the White House determines its next nominee, I’m heartened by the fact that [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence] has an experienced and capable leadership team to see it through this transition,” Burr said. “However, there is no substitute for having a Senate-confirmed director in place to lead our Intelligence Community.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · John Wagner, Shane Harris