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.|
Donald Trump names former Sen. Dan Coats to be intelligence chief
WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday named retired Sen. Dan Coats as national intelligence director, saying the former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee was the right person to lead the new administration’s “ceaseless vigilance against those who seek to do us harm.”
A senior transition offiical told CBS News of Coats’ selection on Thursday, but the official announcement was made on Saturday morning.
Mr. Trump’s announcement came one day after the release of a declassified government report on Russian efforts to influence the presidential election. The report predicts Russia isn’t done intruding in U.S. politics and policymaking.
Mr. Trump wants to improve relations with Russia and repeatedly has denounced intelligence agencies’ assessment that the Kremlin interfered in the election, when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton. But the report released Friday explicitly ties Russian President Vladimir Putin to the meddling and says Russia had a “clear preference” for Mr. Trump over Clinton.
Coats, an Indiana Republican, will await Senate confirmation to head the office, which was created after the Sept. 11 attacks to improve coordination among U.S. spy and law enforcement agencies. Coats now finds himself in line to be at the center of an intelligence apparatus that the president-elect has publicly challenged.
Mr. Trump said in an early morning statement that Coats “has clearly demonstrated the deep subject matter expertise and sound judgment required to lead our intelligence community.” He said Coats “will provide unwavering leadership that the entire intelligence community can respect, and will spearhead my administration’s ceaseless vigilance against those who seek to do us harm.”
Coats, in a statement released by Mr. Trump’s transition team, said: “There is no higher priority than keeping America safe, and I will utilize every tool at my disposal to make that happen.”
Mr. Trump’s team has been examining ways to restructure intelligence agencies as part of an effort to streamline operations and improve efficiency, but Coats’ nomination could ease fears that Mr. Trump would push for a significant overhaul.
Coats, 73, is a Capitol Hill veteran who served eight years in the House before moving to the Senate in 1989 to take Dan Quayle’s place when Quayle became President George H.W. Bush’s vice president. Coats stayed in the Senate until 1998, then left to become a lobbyist.
After serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush, Coats joined the international law firm of King & Spalding, helping lead the government affairs division and lobbying for pharmaceutical, defense and energy companies.
Coats, who earned $600,000 in his final 13 months at King & Spalding, downplayed his lobbying work when he returned to Indiana for a successful Senate comeback bid in 2010. He served one term and did not seek re-election last year.
Coats was a vocal critic of Russia and pushed the Obama administration to harshly punish Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. When the White House levied sanctions, the Kremlin responded by banning several lawmakers, including Coats, from traveling to Russia.
Mr. Trump received a briefing Friday from intelligence officials on the classified report about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he later told The Associated Press that he “learned a lot” from the discussions. But the president-elect declined to say whether he accepted the officials’ assertion that Russia had intruded in the election on his behalf.
Dan Coats Announced as Trump's Pick for Director of National Intelligence
President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats to serve as national intelligence director, his transition team announced Saturday.
Coats, would need to be confirmed by Senate for the role, served eight years in the House of Representatives and two years in the Senate. During the George W. Bush administration, he served as U.S. ambassador to Germany.
"I'm very confident that Senator Dan Coats is the right choice to serve as Director of National Intelligence," President-elect Trump said in a statement. "Dan has clearly demonstrated the deep subject matter expertise and sound judgment required to lead our intelligence community."
As director of national intelligence, Coats would serve as the head of the United States' intelligence community and be the president's principal adviser on the issue.
Coats will succeed James Clapper, who recently testified in front of Congress that Russia had stepped up its cyber espionage operation in an attempt to undermine the election. A redacted report about the hack and its goals was released on Friday.
First elected to the Senate in 1990 in a special election that filled the seat vacated by Dan Quayle — who departed the Senate to serve as George H. W. Bush's vice president — Coats won reelection in 1992 before retiring from the Senate in 1998. He then was nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to Germany in 2001, arriving there mere days before the Sept. 11 terrorism attack.
After departing as ambassador four years later, Coats worked as a prominent lobbyist in Washington D.C. and then decided to run for his former Senate seat in 2010 — an election he won.
Coats again announced his retirement from government in November 2015.
Most recently while in the Senate, Coats served as the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and as a member of the Senate Committee on Finance and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"If confirmed as Director of National Intelligence, he will provide unwavering leadership that the entire intelligence community can respect, and will spearhead my administration's ceaseless vigilance against those who seek to do us harm," Trump added in his statement.
"I'm pleased to hear the President-elect has nominated my colleague and friend Dan Coats to be the next head of our Intelligence Community," said Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "Dan's experience as a valued member of the Senate Intelligence Committee will help to guide him as the next Director of National Intelligence."
In the past year as a senator, Coats has introduced six bills. Only two simple resolutions passed: The first recognized the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and the other commemorated the bicentennial of the state of Indiana.
Coats will lead an intelligence community that already has a rocky relationship with the president-elect, as Trump has continued to float doubts about the community's findings in the Russia hacking investigation.
While testifying before the Armed Services Committee, Clapper stopped short of calling Russia's interference in the election an act of war, saying that was something for lawmakers to discern.
However, the committee's chairman, John McCain (R-AZ), maintained that the attack was alarming.
"Every American should be alarmed by Russia's attacks on our nation. There is no national security interest more vital to the United States of America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference," McCain said in his opening statement during the hearing. "That is why Congress must set partisanship aside, follow the facts, and work together to devise comprehensive solutions to deter, defend against, and, when necessary, respond to foreign cyberattacks."
On Twitter, Donald Trump seemed more concerned with the intelligence community's findings that pertained to the legitimacy of his election rather than Russia's involvement.
The president-elect has maintained a belief that the United States should "move on" from the attack, adding on Saturday that the country will have a good relationship and will work together with Russia under his administration.