The president plans to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to replace Coats as intelligence director, Trump tweeted on Sunday.
In his resignation letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, Coats told Trump that it was a “distinct privilege” to serve as intelligence chief and followed with a list of what he believes to be his most notable achievements in the position.
“I have ensured that we have the capabilities necessary to protect against those who would do us harm, including through reauthorization of Section 702 authority, establishment of an election security executive to support the whole-of-government effort to address threats against our elections, reforms to the security clearance process, and improvements to our budget processes,” the letter dated July 28 stated.
The Washington Post reported in February that Trump had grown frustrated with Coats making statements diverging from his own public policy goals, specifically in regard to securing a disarmament agreement with North Korea and other assessments regarding Iran and the so-called Islamic State.
Rumors swirled back in the summer of 2018 about Coats making a departure after Trump refused once again to stand by the U.S. intelligence communities’ reports that Russians meddled in the 2016 election. Coats took on the role in March 2017, serving as an overseer of the U.S. intelligence community and an adviser to the president and National Security Council.
In July 2018, shortly after Trump said during a summit with Putin that he didn’t “see any reason why it would” be Russia who interfered in the election, Coats released a statement saying the intelligence community provides “the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the president and policymakers” and that it “will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Trump claimed shortly after that he had misspoken, saying he supported the intelligence agencies’ findings. But the next day, Trump publicly contradicted the intelligence community once again by saying Russia was no longer targeting the United States.
Coats again contradicted the president’s assessment in January when he told senators that North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. Trump has repeatedly painted a more positive picture of North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization.
Ratcliffe, a former prosecutor, is considered a strong Trump defender, most recently pleasing the president when he sharply criticized Robert Mueller last week during the former special counsel’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
“The special counsel’s job, nowhere does it say that you were to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or that the special counsel report should determine whether or not to exonerate him,” Ratcliffe told Mueller, whose office investigated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential instances of obstruction of justice by the president.
Trump had previously considered Ratcliffe to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions before choosing William Barr instead, according to Axios.
Democrats began speaking out Sunday against the decision to potentially nominate Ratcliffe. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted that Trump selected Ratcliffe because of his “blind loyalty” to the president “with his demagogic questioning of Mueller.”
“If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position requiring intelligence expertise & non-partisanship, it’d be a big mistake,” Schumer wrote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement saying Coats’ departure “is bad news for the security of America.” Pelosi noted that Coats was a Republican senator who gained bipartisan respect “as an American patriot.”
“DNI Coats’ successor must put patriotism before politics, and remember that his oath is to protect the Constitution and the American people, not the President,” Pelosi stated, not mentioning Ratcliffe’s name.
In Detroit ahead of the Democratic debates, 2020 contender and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Ratcliffe’s “only qualification is loyalty to this president.”
“We need a director of national intelligence who is loyal to this country, and to the Constitution,” Buttigieg said, according to CNN. “Because a hostile foreign adversary realized that all they had to do to make America weaker was to help Donald Trump get elected, and they did, and it worked, and they’re doing it again.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another 2020 presidential candidate, called Trump out as well. The Massachusetts Democrat tweeted that Ratcliffe “doesn’t fit that bill” of an intelligence director, as the person in that role should “resist Trump’s abuses of authority.”
This article has been updated with Coats’ resignation letter and reactions to Trump’s nomination of Ratcliffe.