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Trump smells a Ratcliffe

The president’s pick for the vacant director of national intelligence role may hit a roadblock

No sooner did Donald Trump announce the resignation of Dan Coats than the handwringing began in Washington. Coats, an establishment Republican, was the only man who could stand up to Trump. He was tough on Russia. He wouldn’t water down intelligence reports. Almost overnight he was converted into a wise man whose wisdom made him a model of rectitude and probity.

In reality, Coats is something of a hack who was occupying a position that should never have been created in the first place. George W. Bush capitulated to conventional wisdom in Washington by vastly expanding the national security bureaucracy after September 11. Trump’s apparent instinct to gut the agency has been put on the back-burner. Now he’s substituting an even worse hack in the form of Rep. John Ratcliffe to run it.

Whether Ratcliffe will be approved by the Senate is an open question. Republican legislators have a penchant for occasionally tripping up Trump nominees. Most recently, it occurred with the demurs that met the economist Stephen Moore and the pizza magnate Herman Cain, both of whom were supposed to join the Federal Reserve and help to lower interest rates. Now Ratcliffe is supposed to be Trump’s flunky as director of national intelligence.

As Trump put it yesterday, he’s supposed to ‘rein in’ the intelligence agencies that have allegedly ‘run amok.’ The idea would be to reverse the tables on the Democrats, investigate the investigators, take the Steele out of the steely resolve of Adam Schiff & Co., and, above all, remove the Russia blot from the Trump escutcheon. Ratcliffe himself has previously observed, ‘Think about that, a dossier funded by the Democrats, peddled through the Obama intelligence community, falsely verified by the Obama Justice Department, then sold to the American people by those very same elected Democrats and willing folks in the media.’ Attorney general William P. Barr, whose sidekick Ratcliffe would become in his new post, could hardly have put it better.

But there is a problem. Speaking of peddling false wares, what about Ratcliffe’s own résumé? It seems that he performed some cosmetic surgery on his own record. He claimed on his House website that he had tried suspects that were conveying funds to Hamas. Not so. He had been tasked by the Justice Department to look into peripheral issues in the case. Embellishment seems to have been a consistent theme in his depiction of his past accomplishments. While this may endear him to Trump, who is no stranger to the practice, it seems unlikely to strengthen his case for Senate confirmation.

Still, this all comes at a moment when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is fuming about his depiction as a ‘Russian asset’ in a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank, not to mention his new handle ‘Moscow Mitch.’ The charges against McConnell center on his adamantine refusal to consider any election-security legislation mandated and funded by the federal government. In defending McConnell, Trump responded that he regards the Post as the Russian asset, though he did not explain why this was the case. Given the vitriol being directed at him, McConnell may be inclined to push through Trump’s nomination of Ratcliffe, if only to troll the liberals.

Even as Ratcliffe causes heartburn in Washington, Trump also has his eye on another Senate nomination that is also receiving his backing — Eduardo Bolsonaro, the 35-year-old son of Brazil’s president may be headed to America as the new ambassador, as long as the Brazilian Senate signs off on him. Trump called him a ‘brilliant, wonderful young man on Tuesday.’ He may be bereft of diplomatic experience, but that’s hardly a serious impediment in Trump’s Washington. Actually, it may be a prerequisite.

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