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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is leaving office after clashing with Trump on national security

Key Points
  • Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, will be stepping down in mid-August, President Donald Trump said in a tweet Sunday.
  • Trump said he will nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to replace Coats.
  • "A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves," Trump tweeted.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about "worldwide threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 29, 2019.
Joshua Roberts | CNBC

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, will be stepping down in mid-August, President Donald Trump said in a tweet Sunday.

Trump said he will nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to replace Coats.

"A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves," Trump tweeted.

Coats will leave his position on Aug. 15.

In his resignation letter to the president, Coats said: "The Intelligence Community is stronger than ever, and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities."

"As we have previously discussed, I believe it is time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life," he wrote. "Therefore, I hereby submit to you my resignation effective August 15, 2019."

Trump said that an acting director will be named "shortly."

A spokeswoman for Ratcliffe did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on Trump's announcement.

Coats' departure ends a two-plus-year relationship with Donald Trump marked by tensions over the administration's foreign policy stances that at times spilled into public view.

Ratcliffe drew attention this past week, when he questioned Robert Mueller during the former special counsel's hearings before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about his investigation of Russian election interference, possible coordination between the Kremlin and Trump's campaign, and possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself.

During the Judiciary hearing, Ratcliffe said he agreed with Mueller's conclusions that Russia's efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election were "sweeping and systematic." But he tore into Mueller for noting in his 448-page report that while the investigation does not recommend Trump be charged for obstruction, it also does not "exonerate" him.

"Can you give me an example other than Donald Trump where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person was not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined?" Ratcliffe asked.

Mueller responded, "I cannot, but this is a unique situation."

"You can't find it, because – I'll tell you why – it doesn't exist," Ratcliffe shot back.

Mueller made no determination about whether Trump obstructed justice, because Mueller followed a Department of Justice legal opinion that states that a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office. Mueller later said that Trump could potentially be indicted after leaving office.

"It was not the special counsel's job to conclusively determine Donald Trump's innocence or to exonerate him because the bedrock principle of our justice system is a presumption of innocence. It exists for everyone, everyone is entitled to it, including sitting presidents," Ratcliffe said.

"You managed to violate every principle and the most sacred of traditions about prosecutors not offering extra prosecutorial analysis."

Trump shouldn't be above the law, Ratcliffe added, "but he damn sure shouldn't be below the law, which is where volume two of this report puts him."

Trump and Coats

Coats had previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany during former President George W. Bush's administration, and as a U.S. senator representing Indiana. He was confirmed as Trump's Director of National Intelligence in the spring of 2017, making him the head of an intelligence community that had been attacked on multiple occasions by Trump himself.

Before he was even inaugurated, Trump disputed the findings of an intelligence community report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election he won.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself ordered an influence campaign into the election and "developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the intelligence leaders claimed. Trump at the time questioned whether the Democratic National Committee had actually been hacked.

In January, Trump lashed out at his government's intelligence leaders after a number of them, including Coats, testified before Congress that while Iran remains a threat, it appears to be complying with an Obama-era deal intended to keep the oil-rich nation from developing nuclear weapons.

"Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!" Trump tweeted.

The Washington Post reported in February that Trump grew disenchanted with his director of national intelligence after Coats told Congress in January that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was unlikely to give up his nuclear arsenal, contradicting comments coming from the White House.

That report prompted concern from members of Congress. Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in a post on Twitter the next day that Coats "has always served our country well."

"We are fortunate to have a person of his ability and candor to lead our intelligence community," Collins, considered a GOP moderate, wrote.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a frequent Trump antagonist, cited the report and wrote that Coats "speaks truth to power and gives policy makers the best intelligence possible."

Axios reported in July that Trump was eager to replace Coats, and had discussed his ouster over the course of several months, citing five sources who had talked to the president about the matter.

Coats earlier rebuffed Trump when he issued a stern defense of the intelligence community after the American president, at a summit in Helsinki, indicated he believed Putin's assertion that Russia did not interfere with the 2016 U.S. election:

"The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers. 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."

Trump, after a day of criticism from across the political landscape, eventually said he misspoke. Coats later remarked on Trump's attempted reversal: "Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement, but I think that now that has been clarified based on his late reactions to this."

However, when informed that Trump had extended an invitation to Putin to visit Washington this fall, Coats was taken aback. He learned the news while he was onstage being interviewed at a conference in Aspen, Colorado. "Say that again?" he asked, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

"Okay," he said after a pause. "That's gonna be special."

His response reportedly created an uproar in the White House, prompting aides to worry that Trump would be furious at Coats, according to The Washington Post. One senior administration official told the newspaper that Coats had "gone rogue."