A week ago, Rep. John Radcliffe (R-Texas) was a largely anonymous congressman serving on the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. On Sunday night, President Trump announced he would be nominating him to oversee America’s intelligence community, a position for which Ratcliffe is woefully under-qualified. Why? Look no further than Ratcliffe’s performance during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony last Wednesday.
In lieu of asking questions of Mueller, Ratcliffe used his five minutes to make a show of excoriating Mueller for noting that the special counsel report did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice. Ratcliffe argued that, considering Mueller chose not to prosecute the president, it was outside of his legal purview to elaborate on a decision he chose not to make.
When Mueller tried to explain why the situation was “unique,” Ratcliffe cut him off and continued to rant. “Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not,” Ratcliffe concluded with a flourish. “But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume 2 of this report puts him,” Ratcliffe said.
Rep. John Ratcliffe criticizes Robert Mueller for writing "about decisions that weren't reached" regarding obstruction of justice: "I agree with the Chairman … when he said Donald Trump is not above the law, but he damn well shouldn't be below the law" https://t.co/ujKkMtZXvq pic.twitter.com/ETcyT0Cqgs
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) July 24, 2019
It was exactly the kind of sound bite designed to earn plaudits from Trump. So too was his appearance on Fox News Sunday morning. “I’m not going to accuse any specific person of any specific crime,” he told Maria Bartiromo. “I just want there to be a fair process to get there. What I do know, as a former federal prosecutor, is, it does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama administration.”
Trump announced the nomination hours later. “I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves. Dan Coats, the current Director, will be leaving office on August 15th. I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country. The Acting Director will be named shortly.”
Though Ratcliffe’s nomination probably shouldn’t be attributed solely what took place over the past week (Ratcliffe was already under consideration prior to the hearing), it certainly helped, with Trump reportedly having been impressed by his performance during the Mueller hearing, calling him a “warrior.”
Ratcliffe was quick to accept Trump’s nomination on Sunday night.
President Trump’s call to serve in this role was not one I could ignore, and I am incredibly thankful to him for this great honor. I look forward to my new role with energy and focus. It has been the privilege of my lifetime to be the voice for the people of the Fourth District
— John Ratcliffe (@RepRatcliffe) July 29, 2019
One tricky issue here is that Ratcliffe doesn’t have much experience in intelligence other than serving on the House Intelligence Community. He’s only been in Congress since 2015. Before that, he was the mayor of Heath, Texas, a small town in the northeast part of the state with a population of around 7,000. He was also a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas during the final year of George W. Bush’s presidency.
More important to Trump is Ratcliffe’s loyalty, which is all but assured. The ultra-conservative congressman has long railed against Mueller’s investigation, often using the same language as the president, and has stood by Trump’s side throughout several controversial move, including his “travel ban” on predominantly Muslim nations.
Not so loyal, in Trump’s eyes, was now-outgoing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has repeatedly warned about Russian interference in America’s election systems, causing friction with the president. His ouster and Ratcliffe’s nomination marks another instance of Trump replacing someone who disagreed with him with someone guaranteed to tow the White House line.
Democrats did not take kindly to the nomination. “I don’t know this guy,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) during an appearance on MSNBC. “I think he’s a television character that the president has watched on TV, and he wants to put somebody in this position who’s going to agree with his political take on intelligence.”
“It’s clear Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to @realDonaldTrump with his demagogic questioning of Mueller,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted on Sunday. “If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position requiring intelligence expertise & non-partisanship, it’d be a big mistake.”
Don’t get your hopes up, Chuck.