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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 19, 2018 12:28 AM

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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
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Decatur
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Van Wert
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