Ratcliffe’s withdrawal set off a monthslong merry-go-round at the leadership of the clandestine community, as the president selected counterterrorism chief Joseph Maguire to temporarily assume the DNI post. Maguire ruined his chances of becoming the permanent chief earlier this year after Trump heard he had authorized congressional briefings on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 campaign.
Trump then replaced Maguire as acting DNI with U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who possessed limited intelligence experience but began making a series of organizational changes to the country’s spy agencies. Those included last week’s announcement that the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, which is part of ODNI, would take over election security briefings for political candidates and organizations.
Ratcliffe, who was elected to Congress in 2015, sits on the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees and was a member of Trump’s impeachment defense team. He drew national attention in a hearing last year where he accused former special counsel Robert Mueller of treating Trump unfairly during his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not. But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where volume 2 of this report puts him,” Ratcliffe said at the time. He was referring to the volume of the Mueller report that declines to reach a conclusion about whether the president had obstructed the Russia investigation.
Ratcliffe worked hard at shedding the image of a partisan Trump acolyte during his confirmation hearing earlier this month.
“Let me be very clear: Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence I provide, if confirmed, will not be impacted or altered as a result of outside influence,” Ratcliffe said. He added that he would give intelligence briefings to the president even if he knew Trump would disagree with the conclusions, or if he believed it risked his job.
Tuesday’s vote came the day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tapped Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to temporarily serve as the Intelligence committee’s chairman, after Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) decided to step aside while he faces an FBI investigation into his stock trades.