Trump's top spy pick vows he won't politicize intelligence

Trump’s top spy nominee says China is the ‘greatest threat’ to America and vows to ramp up the search to find the origins of the coronavirus

  • U.S. senators on Tuesday pressed Donald Trump’s nominee to lead U.S. intelligence, Representative John Ratcliffe 
  • Ratcliffe said that if confirmed, he would focus on the virus’ impact, questions about its origins in China and U.S. competition with Beijing 
  • Ratcliffe said he viewed China as the greatest threat to the United States, on many fronts. ‘I won’t say all roads lead to China, but a lot of them do,’ he said
  • Trump nominated Ratcliffe to be director of national intelligence last summer
  • Ratcliffe withdraw amid questions about his lack of experience and partisan reputation, but Trump nominated him again this year
  • The three-term Republican House of Representatives member fervently supported Trump during impeachment 
  • Ratcliffe pledged repeatedly that he would not be influenced by pressure from the Republican president or any other official 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the US intelligence community said Tuesday that he would focus on China as the country’s greatest threat, saying Beijing was determined to supplant the United States’ superpower status.

But John Ratcliffe, an outspoken Trump defender nominated to become director of national intelligence, came under pressure in a Senate confirmation hearing over whether he would politicize the intelligence process to keep the president happy.

It’s the second time Ratcliffe has sought the crucial position – which has lacked a permanent office holder for nearly nine months – after he withdrew from consideration in August following questions over his experience and credentials.

Rep. John Ratcliffe said that if confirmed, he would focus on the virus’ impact, questions about its origins in China and U.S. competition with Beijing 

President Donald Trump’s pick to be the nation’s top intelligence official, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, is adamant that if confirmed he will not allow politics to color information he takes to the president

‘I view China as the greatest threat actor right now,’ Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman from Texas, told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

‘Look with respect to COVID-19 and the role China plays; the race to 5G; cybersecurity issues: all roads lead to China,’ he told the panel.

He cited China’s geopolitical thrust through its ‘Belt and Road’ global infrastructure initiative, its programs to acquire strategic technologies quickly, and its ‘military-civil fusion initiative’ that keeps the private sector beholden to government priorities.

‘These are all spokes of the same initiative and that’s for China to supplant us as the world’s superpower.’

Ratcliffe added: ‘We very clearly don’t want an authoritarian regime like the Chinese Communist Party setting standards in the world marketplace.’ 

Ratcliffe appeared before the first committee hearing held in Congress after a weeks-long hiatus forced by coronavirus, with masks required for those not speaking and hand sanitizer accompanying bottles of water for those addressing the chamber.

The director of national intelligence job has been vacant since Dan Coats, who was regularly at odds with the president, left in August. Trump then forced out other top intelligence officials who were, like Coats, seen as not politically loyal to the White House.

Trump has repeatedly accused the US intelligence community of plotting against him as a ‘deep state,’ fueling increasing resentment among the US spy community.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is pictured speaking by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, China in March. A poll conducted last month by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans surveyed had an unfavorable view of China

In July, Trump first nominated Ratcliffe as DNI but he quickly withdrew in the face of strong resistance in Congress, even from among some senior Republicans. Lawmakers faulted him for an extremely thin resume on national security matters – just one year serving on the House Intelligence Committee.

The DNI job requires overseeing and coordinating 16 other intelligence bodies, including the CIA, the National Security Agency and the FBI’s counterintelligence division.

Trump then named counterterrorism official Joseph Maguire as acting DNI, only to remove him in February after a Maguire aide told Congress that Russia was meddling in the 2020 election and had developed a preference for Trump.

Trump then named his ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, another strong political defender, as acting DNI, and renominated Ratcliffe as permanent DNI.

Ratcliffe is known to be a fervent supporter of Trump but stressed in the hearing that he would ‘speak truth to power’ and not shape intelligence reports to the president’s preferences

That has left the Democrats and Republicans who opposed Ratcliffe last year – including, it is believed, Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr – caught between approving him as permanent DNI or accepting Grenell in the job for another half year.

Ratcliffe stressed in the hearing that he would ‘speak truth to power’ and not shape intelligence reports to the president’s preferences.

But Democrats expressed doubts, noting his rejection of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia tried to help Trump in the 2016 election.

‘Never has anyone more unqualified been formally nominated by a president to lead the US intelligence community,’ former CIA chief of staff Larry Pfeiffer wrote of Ratcliffe Tuesday.

However, he said on Twitter the committee should confirm him in the job, ‘because there’s never been anyone less qualified to sit in the DNI’s chair that the current acting DNI Ric Grenell.’

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