Dan Coats' remarkable rebuke to President Trump

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats spent over a decade in the House and Senate and served as ambassador to G...

Posted: Jul 18, 2018 11:28 PM

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats spent over a decade in the House and Senate and served as ambassador to Germany during the George W. Bush administration before reluctantly answering his friend Vice President-elect Mike Pence's pleas to join the Trump administration. It is a decision portrayed almost as a personal favor to a friend -- and one that he may now be regretting.

On Monday, President Trump issued a stunning rebuke to the US national intelligence community, and DNI Coats directly, when he was asked about the government assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. At a press conference after their two-hour-long meeting in Helsinki, Finland, Trump, standing next to Vladimir Putin, said he did not "see any reason why" Russia would be responsible for the election meddling.

"My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it's not Russia." It was a shocking statement coming from an American president standing next to a major adversary. Trump essentially sided with Putin, who has a long history of human rights abuses, over his own intelligence officers. Fellow Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney, were quick to condemn it. McCain called Monday's press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president."

In a remarkable response, Coats sent a statement not long after, standing by his findings. "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security." The statement reasserting the intelligence community's assessment was unprecedented because it was not cleared through official White House channels and reveals a widening chasm between Trump and his intelligence chief.

Coats has long been a critic of Putin and, when he was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was banned from Russia when he called for stronger sanctions after Russia's annexation of Crimea. Undeterred from holding Russia to account, Coats said days ago that "the warning lights are blinking red again" regarding Russian cyber interference.

When I interviewed Coats last December to talk about the relationship between Vice President Mike Pence, a friend of his from Indiana, and Trump, I was surprised to discover how influential Pence was in Coats's decision to take the job. He reluctantly delayed retirement after Pence pleaded with him to accept.

Related: How long can his war Cabinet tolerate Trump's farce?

"We need someone with experience," he says Pence told him. It was a jarring statement -- it's implausible to think of then-Secretary of State John Kerry taking the position because Obama's vice president, Joe Biden, begged him to reconsider. Usually there is reverence for the man elected president and not a lot of heavy convincing or arm twisting necessary. But it struck me that Coats, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, sees himself as a bulwark against all-out chaos.

His job has not been easy. Once, when he brought up a highly sensitive national security issue with the president, Trump told him to "go talk to Jared [Kushner, his son-in-law] about that." Coats found it a little unsettling to be told to talk to a 36-year-old with no government experience, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

He has been forced to defend his work against a president who casts doubt on his credibility. But this is what Coats signed up for when he agreed to sign on with Trump -- and it wouldn't be surprising if he decided to walk away from the deal.

Since the summit, Trump has already tried to walk back his statements of doubt about the US intelligence community, tweeting Monday, "As I said today and many times before, 'I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.' However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past -- as the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!" It may be too little, too late for the director of national intelligence.

Two years before Pence became vice president Coats told me they talked privately about their political futures. Pence was weighing whether to run for governor again or seek the presidency in 2016 and Coats was trying to decide whether to run for re-election to the Senate.

"We talked about the future and where God might lead each of us," Coats said. "I don't believe I would be in my current position had we not had this discussion." Now he probably wishes that talk had never happened.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
Leflore4749144
Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 847659

Reported Deaths: 16172
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1163752005
Mobile743371381
Madison53434738
Shelby38413371
Baldwin38171589
Tuscaloosa36131643
Montgomery34571782
Lee25664264
Calhoun22622519
Morgan22527408
Etowah20059520
Marshall18821318
Houston17769426
St. Clair16946359
Limestone16192220
Cullman16140305
Elmore15948295
Lauderdale15055307
Talladega14244302
DeKalb13061271
Walker12138380
Blount10765193
Autauga10545157
Jackson10204195
Coffee9435192
Colbert9363210
Dale9038192
Tallapoosa7283202
Russell710165
Chilton7078170
Covington6967197
Escambia6962144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5795142
Marion5435130
Dallas5302210
Pike5128109
Clarke485686
Lawrence4845130
Winston4785110
Geneva4650136
Bibb435495
Barbour370180
Butler3444101
Marengo342793
Monroe338366
Randolph337767
Pickens334790
Fayette331485
Henry321066
Cherokee319964
Hale318889
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252069
Macon245767
Conecuh193562
Coosa185847
Wilcox178338
Lowndes178268
Bullock152745
Perry141840
Sumter139741
Greene130345
Choctaw94328
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