President Trump announced Sunday afternoon that Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats will be stepping down and that he’s picking a Texas congressman to replace him.
“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. A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves,” Mr. Trump tweeted, naming a successor whom Democrats promptly dismissed as a toady.
Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Coats will leave the post in less than three weeks.
“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,” he tweeted.
Mr. Coats was widely reported Sunday as having left because of differences with Mr. Trump over Russia and over the president’s repeated criticisms of the U.S. intelligence community. Mr. Trump had wanted to replace Mr. Coats since at least February, Axios reported.
Reaction was predictably mixed on Capitol Hill, as Democrats decried Mr. Coats’ departure as the loss of an independent voice at the White House — the director of national intelligence prepares the president’s daily briefings.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, tweeted that “the mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power. As DNI, Dan Coats stayed true to that mission. Thank you for your service, Director Coats.”
But Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence panel called Mr. Ratcliffe “an excellent pick.” He cited the Texan’s “experience on the Homeland Security Committee and as former Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, & Innovation Subcommittee chairman.”
Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, called the Ratcliffe pick “incredible” and said “the only thing stronger than his credentials is his character.”
Mr. Ratcliffe, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, reportedly caught Mr. Trump’s eye last week while vigorously questioning Robert Mueller, accusing the former special counsel’s report of putting the president “beneath” the law in its implications of wrongdoing without an indictment or recommendation to impeach.
“He’s somebody the president thinks very highly of,” a senior White House official had told The Washington Times before Mr. Trump made the announcement on Twitter.
According to top Democrats, that alone explains the choice of Mr. Ratcliffe.
“As far as I can tell his only qualification is loyalty to this president,” said Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at a fundraiser for his 2020 presidential campaign in Detroit, CNN reported.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called the choice “partisan” and contrary to the spirit of the nation’s top intelligence post.
“It’s clear that Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to President Trump with his demagogic questioning of former special counsel Robert Mueller. If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and nonpartisanship, it would be a big mistake,” he said Sunday evening.
The statement by Mr. Schumer’s Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, didn’t even mention Mr. Ratcliffe, instead heaping several paragraphs of praise on Mr. Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana who had served alongside Mr. McConnell.
“I was very sorry to learn today that Director Coats will depart his position as Director of National Intelligence later this month,” he said. “I was reassured knowing that a man who took such a deliberate, thoughtful, and unbiased approach was at the helm of our intelligence community.
Mr. McConnell singled out Mr. Coats’ helping intelligence agencies getting “a better handle on the malign behavior of Russia, China, and other adversaries,” in particular “his role in the Administration’s comprehensive response to Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere in our democracy. The intelligence community’s great leaps since 2016 laid the groundwork for the administration’s significant progress in defending against interference in 2018 and preparing us for 2020.”
In July 2018, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell was interviewing Mr. Coats at the Aspen Security Forum when she broke the “news” to him on stage that Mr. Trump planned to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House. (The invitation never came about.)
“Say that again?” Mr. Coats said to laughter. When she repeated it, Mr. Coats replied, “Did I hear you right? OK, that’s going to be special.”
The audience laughed loudly, an episode that reportedly irritated Mr. Trump.
On Sunday, Ms. Mitchell called Mr. Coats’ departure “a real setback for the intelligence community.”
On Twitter, she complained that Mr. Coats, “the highly respected top intel official was expected to resign gracefully. Trump tweet prevents that.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.