Dan Coats plans to quit soon as intelligence chief | TribLIVE.com
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Dan Coats plans to quit soon as intelligence chief

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AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks Feb. 13, 2018, at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing.

WASHINGTON — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is expected to quit soon after more than two years of repeatedly disagreeing with some of President Trump’s key national security claims, two people familiar with the matter said.

Trump plans to nominate U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican, to replace Coats, one person said.

As the head of the U.S. intelligence community, the 76-year-old Coats has been a rare cabinet official willing to break ranks with the president publicly. A recent example was in January, at a congressional hearing where Coats and other intelligence chiefs contradicted the president’s statements on topics from North Korea to Islamic State.

It was a habit that drew praise from the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Amid reports in February that Coats was at risk of losing his job, Rep. Adam Schiff of California said in a tweet that Coats “speaks truth to power and gives policymakers the best intelligence possible.”

During the January hearing, Coats countered Trump’s assertion that Islamic State was defeated, testifying that “ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.”

Undercut on Iran

Defying the optimism exuded by Trump on North Korea, Coats said the government of Kim Jong Un is “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.” His assessment came weeks after a second summit between Trump and the North Korean leader, in Vietnam in February, broke up without agreements on denuclearization.

Coats also undercut the president on Iran, testifying that intelligence agencies believed Iran was continuing to comply with the 2015 nuclear agreement from which Trump withdrew in 2018. Since then, following U.S. moves to ramp up sanctions on the Islamic Republic, Iran began enriching uranium beyond agreed-upon limits.

Trump lashed out at the Iran assessment at the time, writing on Twitter that intelligence officials “seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Trump added: “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

‘Down the middle’

Coats’s deputy, Sue Gordon, praised his performance as a non-political intelligence chief in a July podcast with former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morrell.

“He has played intelligence straight down the middle,” Gordon said on the “Intelligence Matters” podcast. “The intelligence community is strong in part because of the way Dan has conducted his job. I don’t know that any DNI could have done in this time what Dan Coats has done and I’m proud to be a member of his team.”

In July 2018, Coats criticized Trump’s decision to meet alone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, saying at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado soon after that “I would have suggested a different way, but that’s not my role, that’s not my job. So it is what it is.”

Told while on stage at the Aspen forum that the White House had tweeted Putin was being invited to Washington — a trip that never occurred — Coats said sardonically, “That’s going to be special.”

Low-profile chief

Coats was a low-profile chief of the intelligence community, often leaving the spotlight to the leaders of the better-known Central Intelligence Agency: Michael Pompeo at the start of Trump’s administration and, after he became secretary of State, Gina Haspel, the CIA’s current director.

Yet when Coats made public comments, they nearly always defended the independence of the intelligence community.

In May, Coats addressed concerns that Trump’s order telling the intelligence community to share classified documents about the start of the Russia probe with the Justice Department could result in national security secrets becoming public. He said he was confident that “long-established procedures” to safeguard the information would be followed, and he vowed to keep providing “apolitical intelligence” to the president.

Coats’s pending departure comes amid renewed turmoil on Trump’s national security team and broader cabinet. The administration has no confirmed deputy defense secretary, UN ambassador or homeland security secretary. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned on July 12 after coming under fire for his handling of a decade-old sex crimes case against investor Jeffrey Epstein, who faces new charges for trafficking girls as young as 14 for sex.

CAN’T BE ABOLISHED

Axios reported this month that Trump isn’t convinced the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, is even necessary. But the office was created by Congress and can’t be abolished by the president.

Coats was a well known quantity in Washington long before taking on the role coordinating the work of the federal government’s more than a dozen intelligence agencies. He served as a congressman and then senator from 1981 to 1999, stepping down because of a term-limits pledge.

He returned to the Senate in 2011 and became a member of the Finance, Intelligence and Joint Economic committees. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and worked as a lobbyist for companies such as General Electric Co. and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

HIGH-PROFILE SPLIT

His most high-profile divergence from Trump came after the president’s 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki, where Trump seemed to give more credence to Putin’s denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election than the findings of “my people,” including Coats.

Before the returning president’s plane even landed in Washington, Coats fired off his response.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

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