Politics

Senate panel backs Trump's pick to lead U.S. spy agencies

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Key Points
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday endorsed the confirmation of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, President Donald Trump's nominee to be director of national intelligence.
  • Ratcliffe's nomination must still be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. A floor vote has not yet been scheduled.
  • If confirmed, Ratcliffe will lead the nation's 17 intelligence agencies. He will be the first permanent spy chief since Dan Coats stepped down last August.
John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, questions Robert Mueller, former special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., July 24, 2019.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday endorsed the confirmation of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, President Donald Trump's nominee to be the nation's top spy.

Following Tuesday's party-line vote, Ratcliffe's nomination must still be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. A floor vote has not yet been scheduled.

Tuesday's vote came a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will serve as the Intelligence committee's acting chairman while Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., steps aside amid an FBI investigation into his stock trades.

If confirmed, Ratcliffe will lead the nation's 17 intelligence agencies as the director of national intelligence. He will be the first permanent spy chief since Dan Coats stepped down last August.

Trump nominated Ratcliffe, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, on the heels of Coats' departure. The nomination was dropped amid concerns about his lack of experience and his overt partisan reputation. Ratcliffe was renominated this year.

Ratcliffe was elected to Congress in 2015 and also sits on the House Judiciary committee. He was one of the congressional members of Trump's impeachment defense team.

In July 2018, Ratcliffe drew attention when he tore into former special counsel Robert Mueller about his investigation of Russian election interference and its possible coordination between the Kremlin and Trump's campaign.

"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 during the House Judiciary hearing.

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

Representative John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Photographer: Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Gabriella Demczuk | The New York Times | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since his nomination to become the next director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe has tried to shed his partisan image by telling senators earlier this month that he would not "shade intelligence for anyone."

"The intelligence I provide, if confirmed, will not be impacted or altered as a result of outside influence," Ratcliffe said during his May 5 confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He added that he has never discussed "loyalty" with the administration and that he would deliver intelligence to the president even if he knew it would upset Trump and potentially lead to his removal from the intel community.

Ratcliffe's potential ascension as the nation's spy chief comes amid tumult and uncertainty as the nation battles an unprecedented health crisis and dismal unemployment and moves toward the 2020 presidential election.

If confirmed, he would replace Richard Grenell, the current acting director of national intelligence, who runs the nation's intelligence communities while serving as the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Grenell, a Trump loyalist, came into the role with little experience in February and has since made a series of organizational changes to the country's spy agencies.