WASHINGTON — Dan Coats, the U.S. spy chief who has clashed with President Donald Trump over assessments involving Russia, Iran and North Korea, plans to step down soon, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Sunday.
The source told Reuters that Coats advised Trump last week that he planned to step down fairly soon as director of national intelligence, a post from which he oversaw the 17 U.S. civilian and military intelligence agencies, including the CIA.
Coats offered Trump some thoughts on who might succeed him, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The New York Times, citing people familiar with the matter, first reported that Coats’ departure was expected “in the coming days.” Coats’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump is seriously considering tapping Rep. John Ratcliffe, a fellow Republican, to replace Coats, a source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Representatives for Ratcliffe were not immediately available for comment.
Ratcliffe, a member of the House intelligence and judiciary committees, defended Trump during former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday about his two-year investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice.
Ratcliffe also accused Mueller of exceeding his authority in the report’s extensive discussion of potential obstruction of justice by Trump after the special counsel made the decision not to draw a conclusion on whether Trump committed a crime.
The congressman agreed that Trump was not above the law, but said the President should not be “below the law” either.
Ratcliffe has served in Congress since 2015.
Before coming to Congress, he served as mayor for Heath, Texas, near Dallas, and as a U.S. attorney.
His congressional biography highlights his role as a terrorism prosecutor and says he “arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day.”
If there is no nominee confirmed to replace Coats whenever he leaves, Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon would lead the agency on an acting basis, said a congressional source familiar with the nomination process.
“(If) Coats leaves, Sue Gordon is acting. There’s no incentive for anyone to rush another nominee in. Sue Gordon suits everybody just fine,” said the source.
The comment by the congressional source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was an indication that a Ratcliffe confirmation could face uphill sailing in the U.S. Senate.
Coats, who has served as director of national intelligence since March 2017, clashed with his boss early on, taking a hard line toward Russia that sharply contrasted with the conciliatory approach Trump pursued toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In January, Coats told Congress North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons, contradicting Trump’s statement that Pyongyang no longer posed a threat.
He also told lawmakers that Iran had continued to comply with a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers that Trump abandoned in May 2018.
The next day, Trump on Twitter complained about the “passive and naive” U.S. intelligence leaders, suggesting they “go back to school!”
In July 2018, Coats publicly admitted he did not know what happened in the one-on-one meeting in Helsinki between Trump and Putin that has raised concern among many U.S. lawmakers.
The White House faced an uproar over several issues from the summit, including Trump’s failure to confront Putin over American intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election and Putin’s proposal that Russian authorities be allowed to question U.S. citizens.
At a post-summit news conference with Putin, Trump responded to a question about Russian meddling in the U.S. election by casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and denouncing the “stupidity” of U.S. policies.
In an unusual step, Coats responded by releasing a statement firmly supporting U.S. assessments that Russia was involved in “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”