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: 1506866

Reported Deaths: 20637
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2056892545
Lake1006641508
Allen935801017
Hamilton72876550
St. Joseph64730759
Elkhart49383628
Vanderburgh48286528
Tippecanoe43764336
Johnson38300526
Hendricks36427460
Porter34494473
Madison29024543
Clark25868326
Vigo25633345
LaPorte23430309
Monroe23133247
Howard22089379
Delaware21603368
Hancock18686220
Bartholomew18152215
Kosciusko17921203
Warrick16933214
Wayne16230302
Floyd15876257
Grant15364298
Morgan14409231
Boone13514138
Noble11815141
Dearborn11676113
Henry11667201
Shelby11649151
Marshall11337168
Dubois11257152
Jackson10586104
Cass10269143
DeKalb10202130
Lawrence10196220
Huntington10156139
Gibson9583126
Montgomery9274143
Knox9043125
Harrison8983117
Whitley874371
Steuben8603105
Jasper8252115
Clinton818995
Miami8128133
Putnam8128100
Jefferson7849127
Wabash7827139
Ripley7180114
Adams6658102
Daviess6558129
Scott645186
White620483
Clay607175
Greene6064112
Decatur5967120
Wells5944120
Jennings591680
Fayette5786122
Posey552648
LaGrange529697
Randolph5073129
Washington503669
Owen4976100
Fountain475880
Spencer451756
Sullivan443065
Starke440586
Fulton434192
Orange429582
Jay414664
Rush410237
Perry386455
Carroll381749
Franklin377550
Vermillion358362
Pike323445
Parke322538
Tipton317375
Blackford274055
Pulaski272275
Newton233661
Brown228956
Benton219021
Crawford217532
Switzerland197814
Martin189422
Warren175922
Union170219
Ohio124016
Unassigned0739

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2460869

Reported Deaths: 31245
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2660682065
Cuyahoga2589843018
Hamilton1711291714
Montgomery1142371604
Summit1077801391
Lucas917461160
Butler81317942
Stark759401400
Lorain63561792
Warren51721475
Mahoning50412915
Lake47212605
Clermont45258429
Delaware40037212
Trumbull39108755
Medina38036419
Licking37943408
Fairfield34857334
Greene33267422
Portage31942360
Clark31218445
Richland29019423
Wood28563297
Allen25249395
Miami23567395
Muskingum22859245
Columbiana22539403
Wayne21740356
Tuscarawas19252427
Erie18390222
Ashtabula18260342
Marion18111232
Scioto17366207
Ross16832252
Pickaway15948178
Hancock15761228
Geauga15374223
Lawrence14350186
Belmont13767247
Union1375384
Huron13682182
Jefferson13250258
Sandusky13047199
Athens12272106
Knox11850198
Seneca11762200
Darke11111198
Ashland11022178
Washington10836168
Auglaize10540142
Crawford10172175
Shelby10101157
Brown9734140
Fulton9531150
Guernsey9423117
Highland9396148
Defiance9321135
Logan9228142
Clinton9087127
Mercer8902111
Madison8836106
Preble8265162
Williams8127135
Putnam7922135
Ottawa7809121
Champaign7782112
Jackson7582117
Perry731298
Coshocton7210136
Morrow712882
Fayette688687
Pike640586
Hardin6397128
Gallia614791
Adams6000124
Van Wert5923121
Henry586493
Hocking5718104
Wyandot491590
Carroll4909100
Holmes4814161
Paulding414664
Meigs387473
Monroe307468
Noble289351
Harrison287961
Morgan283348
Vinton247945
Unassigned08
Fort Wayne
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 23° Lo: 8°
Feels Like: 11°
Angola
Clear
18° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 7°
Feels Like: 18°
Huntington
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 23° Lo: 9°
Feels Like: 19°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 24° Lo: 10°
Feels Like: 11°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
18° wxIcon
Hi: 25° Lo: 10°
Feels Like: 9°
Windy conditions are on tap for Saturday with highs near 30 degrees.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events