May 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Senate confirms John Ratcliffe as intelligence chief

Ratcliffe testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) as the director of national intelligence in a 49-44 party-line vote on Thursday.

Why it matters: Ratcliffe, a vocal ally of President Trump, now heads an intelligence community that has faced consistent criticism from the president and is in the midst of political firestorms surrounding the prosecution of Michael Flynn and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

  • Ratcliffe will also be able to decide what documents are publicly released in expanding congressional investigations into Obama administration officials, especially Joe Biden, Trump's presumptive 2020 opponent.
  • Worth noting: Ratcliffe's predecessor, Dan Coats, was confirmed in 2017 with a 85-12 vote.

The backdrop: Trump previously floated nominating Ratcliffe for the position last year but backed off after senior congressional Republicans deemed him "unqualified" for the job due to his lack of intelligence experience.

  • He replaces acting DNI Richard Grenell, who is concurrently the U.S. ambassador to Germany and may go on to chair the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
  • Ratcliffe said during his confirmation hearing that "keeping politics out of the intelligence community is one of my priorities," adding that he does not believe the intelligence agencies have "run amok" as Trump and his allies have claimed.
  • However, Democrats fear he will politicize a position that oversees the entire intelligence community.

What they're saying: "In a time when the threats to our nation are many and varied, it is critical to have a Senate-confirmed DNI ensuring the wide array of intelligence agencies are sharing information across lines, coordinating capabilities, and working in the furtherance of our nation’s security using 21st century, cutting edge capabilities," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

  • "Director Ratcliffe understands this responsibility, and I am confident that he will fulfill all of the roles assigned to the DNI with integrity.”

Go deeper: More highlights from John Ratcliffe's DNI confirmation hearing

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Police watch as demonstrators block a roadway while protesting the death of George Floyd in Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Preliminary results from an independent autopsy commissioned by George Floyd's family found that his death in the custody of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was "homicide caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain," according to a statement from the family's attorney.

Why it matters: The autopsy contradicts preliminary findings from the Hennepin County medical examiner, who found “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxiation or strangulation,” according to charging documents against Chauvin. The official examination is still ongoing.

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The latest: White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing Monday that Trump's call for law enforcement to "dominate" protesters referred to "dominating the streets" with a robust National Guard presence in order to maintain the peace.

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President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on Monday about Trump's plans to expand September's G7 meeting in Washington to include Russia, according to the Russian government's readout of the call.

The big picture: The phone call between the two leaders, which the Kremlin says was initiated by Trump, comes amid six consecutive days of mass unrest in the U.S. over police brutality and racial inequality. The White House confirmed the call took place and said a readout was forthcoming.