Trump picks former U.S. Senator Coats as director of national intelligence

WASHINGTON - President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday picked former U.S. Senator Dan Coats as his director of national intelligence, two senior transition officials said, as he puts his own stamp on a U.S. intelligence community that he frequently criticizes.

The official announcement was expected this week as Trump makes decisions on some of the remaining major positions he must fill as he prepares to take over the White House on Jan. 20.

Coats, 73, is a traditional conservative from Indiana who just finished a six-year term in the U.S. Senate. He was also a U.S. ambassador to Germany for Republican President George W. Bush.

Two senior transition officials said Trump had chosen Coats. Separately, a source close to the transition said Trump had also considered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for the job but that Christie had chosen not to take it.

Trump was also nearing decisions on two other Cabinet positions, agriculture secretary and secretary of veterans affairs, with announcements expected soon, the source close to the transition said.

The leading candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture was former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, although one source said Idaho Governor Butch Otter was also in the mix.

As for the veterans position, Trump on Tuesday met with Leo Mackay Jr., a former deputy secretary for veterans affairs and a senior vice president of Lockheed Martin Corp, about the Cabinet post.

Toby Cosgrove, chief executive officer of the Cleveland Clinic, had been considered for the veterans job but withdrew from consideration.

Trump has repeatedly expressed doubts about the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia had a hand in hacking during the presidential campaign.

He was to get a briefing about the intelligence community's findings on the topic from senior U.S. officials on Friday at Trump Tower in New York.

Some U.S. Intelligence officials on Thursday welcomed Coats' selection, saying they hope his appointment was a sign that Trump was seeking to mend fences with the intelligence community after months of enmity over its assessment that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election through hacking.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a domestic political issue, said he also hoped that if he is confirmed, Coats can negotiate what he called "a truce" between the intelligence community and Trump's choice for national security adviser, the former Defense Intelligence Agency director, retired Army Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who was fired by the current director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

© REUTERS/Lucas Jackson Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) stops to speak to the news media after a meeting at Trump Tower with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in New York, U.S., November 30, 2016.

Dan Coats picked to be director of national intelligence

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped former Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana to serve as director of national intelligence, transition sources confirmed on Thursday.

Coats, who retired from the Senate this month after deciding not to seek re-election last year, would become Trump's principal adviser on intelligence matters and would oversee US intelligence efforts should he be confirmed by the Senate.

He will not be present at an intelligence briefing for Trump on Friday, a transition source told CNN.

Coats previously served in the US Senate from 1989 until 1999 before becoming the US ambassador to Germany in the first term of President George W. Bush's administration. He then returned to the Senate after winning election in 2010.

Coats would step into the role at a time when US intelligence efforts are being intensely scrutinized amid the US intelligence community's conclusions that Russia hacked Democratic Party groups and individuals -- conclusions Trump has repeatedly dismissed.

Coats' selection also coincides with reports that the Trump transition is considering ways to limit the power of the director of national intelligence, which some advisers to the President-elect believe gets in the way of the 16 intelligence agencies it represents.

Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, stressed on a call with reporters Thursday morning that "all transition activities are for information gathering purposes and all discussions are tentative" as he pushed back on those reports.

"The President-elect's top priority will be to ensure the safety of the American people and the security of the nation and he is committed to finding the best and most effective way to do it. But I want to reiterate, there is no truth to this idea of restructuring the intelligence community infrastructure, it is 100% false," he said.

Sen. Angus King, an independent who usually caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN Thursday he was "impressed" with his Republican colleague.

"He's not a fierce partisan," the Maine senator said. "He understand the intelligence community, as you know he was a US ambassador to Germany so he has that experience in foreign policy, and he's a very amiable, easy-to-work-with person, but I'm not as with all the other nominees, I'm going to wait until we have a hearing and go through the process. But he's a good solid citizen."


Dan Coats, the ‘Mister Rogers’ Senator Poised to Be Intelligence Chief

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump is expected to choose as director of national intelligence two-time Senator Dan Coats, a former ambassador to Germany, secret foodie and lover of all things Indiana who also served as a member of his chamber’s Intelligence Committee.

Known for a self-effacing style, Mr. Coats was popular among his colleagues. “I always thought he should wear a red cardigan,” said Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado. “He was the closest thing to Mister Rogers we could come up with.”

While fiscally conservative, Mr. Coats, an Indiana Republican who completed his second Senate stint this month, often found common cause with Democrats, who described him as thoughtful on intelligence and national security issues, with a sharp intellect and disarming humor.

“I have always been impressed with his demeanor,” said Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and who served on the Intelligence Committee with Mr. Coats and traveled with him in Eastern Europe. “He’s not a fierce partisan and knows the intelligence community. He’s very amiable and easy to work with.”

The position of America’s top intelligence official was created by Congress in 2004, as a response to criticism that the nation’s spy agencies had failed to detect and prevent the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, the director has been charged with coordinating the intelligence-gathering and analysis of the country’s 16 civilian and military spy agencies, helping to prevent a terrorist attack and serving as a central liaison to presidents and their White House staff.

But bureaucratic turf wars have dogged the office of the director of national intelligence since its creation. Officials who run the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency, among others, have sought to maintain control over parts of the spying apparatus, and to exert influence with presidents and members of Congress.

In 2009, for example, Leon E. Panetta, President Obama’s incoming C.I.A. director, clashed with Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence at the time, after Mr. Blair sought to select the top American spies for overseas postings. Mr. Panetta sent a dispatch to the agency’s employees telling them to ignore Mr. Blair’s message — an assertion that the C.I.A. was in charge.

The rivalries have weakened the national intelligence office and led some critics in the government to question its effectiveness. The year that Mr. Obama took office, an internal report criticized the office of national intelligence for adding to — not removing — bureaucratic bloat and doing little to end the tensions among the various spy agencies.

In 2010, James R. Clapper Jr., the current director of national intelligence, insisted during his Senate confirmation hearings that he would not be a “hood ornament,” saying that despite the inherent limitations on his job, he would try to bring an end to turf battles among the nation’s spy agencies.

Six years later, the job appears to have limited appeal to some intelligence professionals, several of whom were not eager to serve in the position for fear that they would not be empowered.

Mr. Coats had been an early and strong contender for secretary of defense in the first term of President George W. Bush, until Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, successfully pressed for Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Coats, 73, graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois, and served in the Army before studying at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He began a career in life insurance in Fort Wayne, Ind., before joining the office of then-Representative Dan Quayle as a district representative.

Mr. Coats owed much of his political career to his ties to Mr. Quayle, the former vice president. Mr. Coats won Mr. Quayle’s House seat in 1980, the year the latter was elected to the Senate. After Mr. Quayle was elected vice president in 1988, Mr. Coats was appointed to fill his seat; he served on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. In 1998, Mr. Coats decided to not seek re-election, largely because the Democratic challenger, Evan Bayh, was considered unbeatable.

In 2001, Mr. Coats was named ambassador to Germany, arriving only three days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Ambassador Coats found himself thrown into a role he couldn’t have foreseen a day earlier, a role in which he would excel but one that would forever change him,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said on the Senate floor last year in remarks praising Mr. Coats.

“Those who know Dan Coats say that day in September affected him profoundly,” he said. “He may not have known it then, but he would feel the tug of that responsibility many years later, and answer the call.”

After a brief foray into lobbying, Mr. Coats returned to the Senate in January 2011, serving again on the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Coats was also one of only a few Republican senators who supported compelling Congress to officially authorize the use of military force abroad.

“You’re asking our sons and daughters to take up our cause,” he said, “and every person who is here has to decide with their own conscience if that’s something we’re going to do.”

Mr. Coats enjoys visiting restaurants both in Indianapolis and in small hamlets that serve farm-to-table food, and featured several interesting restaurants and food purveyors when it was his turn to host lunch for his Republican colleagues.

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