By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he again was tapping Republican Representative John Ratcliffe to be the nation’s top spy, a loyalist whose first nomination he dropped last year amid questions about a lack of experience and possible resume embellishment.
Trump announced the move on Twitter. It would allow him to extend in an acting capacity as director of national intelligence another staunch supporter, Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, while the Senate considers Ratcliffe’s nomination.
The announcement comes as the U.S. intelligence community confronts an array of challenges, including foreign interference in this year’s presidential election campaign, tensions with Russia, Iran and China, and tracking the global spread of the coronavirus.
“I am pleased to announce the nomination of @RepRattcliffe (Congressman John Ratcliffe) to be Director National Intelligence,” Trump said in the tweet. “Would have completed the process earlier, but John wanted to wait until after IG Report was finished.”
It was unclear to which report Trump was referring. Ratcliffe’s office did not immediate respond to a request for comment.
“John is an outstanding man of great talent,” Trump tweeted.
His announcement drew a lukewarm response from Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said he looked forward to “receiving Congressman Ratcliffe’s official nomination and ushering it through the Senate’s regular order.”
Democrats almost immediately objected, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for swift bipartisan rejection of Ratcliffe as overseer of the 17 agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community.
“The last time this nomination was unsuccessfully put forward, serious bipartisan questions were raised about Rep. Ratcliffe’s background and qualifications,” Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “It’s hard for me to see that anything new has happened to change that.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president was ignoring “many serious outstanding concerns” about Ratcliffe, and that intelligence should never be guided by partisanship or politics.
“Unfortunately, Congressman Ratcliffe has shown an unacceptable embrace of conspiracy theories and a clear disrespect and distrust of our law enforcement and intelligence patriots that disqualify him from leading America’s intelligence community,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Ratcliffe, who has represented a Texas congressional district since 2015 and is a member of the House intelligence and judiciary committees, was an outspoken defender of the president during the Democratic-led proceedings that resulted in Trump’s impeachment last year on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump this month.
Trump first nominated Ratcliffe to be Director National Intelligence (DNI) on July 28 to succeed Dan Coats, a former Republican senator with whom Trump clashed over assessments involving Russia, North Korea and Iran.
The nomination drew fire from Democrats and some former senior U.S. intelligence officials who said Ratcliffe lacked experience. Some also expressed fears he would warp intelligence to support Trump’s views.
News outlets, including Reuters, also reported on concerns that Ratcliffe exaggerated his counter-terrorism experience as a federal prosecutor in Texas.
In a Feb. 25, 2015, press release Ratcliffe said he had “convicted individuals” in the prosecution of a charity that funneled money to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Three defense attorneys said they had no recollection of his involvement in the case.
Trump dropped the nomination on Aug. 2, with Ratcliffe saying that he did not want a partisan “national security and intelligence debate surrounding my nomination, however untrue.”
The revival of his nomination lets Grenell remain as acting DNI while the Senate considers Ratcliffe. Grenell was limited to serving until March 11 in a temporary capacity unless Trump tapped a full-time replacement.
The president named Grenell this month to replace Joseph Mcguire, who also served in an acting capacity, after an aide to the former Navy admiral and intelligence veteran briefed the House Intelligence Committee on Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 presidential race.
The panel is chaired by Democrat Adam Schiff, who led the House impeachment proceeding against Trump.
Reacting to Ratcliffe’s revived nomination, Schiff said on Twitter, “We now have an intelligence chief who should not have been fired, an unqualified nominee who should not be confirmed, and an acting director who is patently unfit.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Eric Beech and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis)