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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Intel fiasco raises more questions about Trump vetting process

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), on Capitol Hill in

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 24. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

The pattern has been clear for a while. President Donald Trump and his team carry out less-than-extreme vetting — and even disregard experience — when filling important White House posts.

So it came as no surprise when Trump's selection of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) as director of national intelligence imploded five days after it was announced amid questions about his resume and qualifications.

On Sunday, July 28, Trump tweeted: "John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves." On Friday the nomination was withdrawn.

Ratcliffe had boasted on his website that he "put terrorists in prison." But news organizations found no sign he made any terrorism cases while U.S. attorney in East Texas. Ratcliffe also said that "as a U.S. Attorney, I arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day.” That claim, too, proved undocumented.

Checking this stuff out first would have been simple.

Ratcliffe was known to have made a positive impression on the president, America's top television viewer, by roasting ex-special counsel Robert Mueller's two-year Russia-meddling investigation in a recent hearing.

Ratcliffe even parroted Trump-team talking points about the basis of an earlier FBI surveillance warrant and refused to accept the finding that Presdent Vladimir Putin tilted to Trump in 2016 when Russians carried out hacking and propaganda.

The national-intelligence director's job was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to make sure "three-letter" agencies worked in tandem. The initial order creating it required the director to have military or intelligence experience. 

Ratcliffe had neither. From 2004 to 2012, he was mayor of Heath, Texas, with 6,900 people. He spent a year as an interim U.S. attorney and practiced law privately. He has been in Congress for four years.

Like several earlier Trump aides, Dan Coats vacated the DNI job. By all accounts he found himself isolated from important decision-making. It's easy to see how that might have happened: Coats gave Trump information he doubted or did not want to hear.

During his tenure, Coats informed Trump and Congress that Iran was abiding by the 2015 pact to not make nuclear weapons. Coats also said North Korea's Kim Jong Un was keeping his nukes, and reported that ISIS was still brutally active after Trump proclaimed its defeat.

The facts caused embarrassment. Trump complained vaguely on Tuesday that the intelligence agencies have “run amok,” whatever that meant. 

GOP reaction to Ratcliffe's name was tepid even before the resume inflation was revealed.

Would Ratcliffe have twisted or faked facts to fit Trump's preconceptions? That question would have been asked had he made it to Senate confirmation hearings. The Senate’s Republican majority caucus has differences with the administration on foreign policy, including Trump's tilt toward Saudi Arabia. 

Since 2017, dozens of Trump candidates for big jobs have withdrawn amid scrutiny.

One recent example: Stephen Moore, a television talker affiliated with conservative think tanks who Trump wanted to join the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Moore's outlier theories on finance, along with personal entanglements, helped lead to his withdrawal.

Others highly qualified, who were confirmed by the Senate, left the administration after internal clashes. One was Defense Secretary James Mattis, a career military man now replaced by Mark Esper, formerly of the Raytheon corporation, a defense contractor.


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