Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role

By Morgan Chalfant - 08/02/19 06:24 PM

President Trump has created massive uncertainty about who will serve in his top intelligence post — even on an interim basis.

On Friday, Trump abruptly dropped plans to tap Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to replace outgoing Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Daniel Coats, and he has not yet announced who will be acting DNI after Coats leaves the administration later this month. The moves fuel concerns that Trump will try to circumvent a federal statute requiring that Sue Gordon, as Coats’s deputy, assume his duties.

Trump told reporters Friday afternoon that he likes Gordon and that she would be “considered” for the acting role, indicating a decision would be made in the coming days.

“Sue will be there now and certainly she will be considered for the acting," Trump said.

Meanwhile, a person familiar with the process told The Hill earlier Friday that the White House is weighing removing the career intelligence officer so Trump can name someone else as acting DNI.

A move to pass over or oust Gordon would be met with frustration among lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have built relationships with her. Some have emphasized their respect for Gordon in recent days and noted that the law states she should replace Coats when he leaves his post on Aug. 15.

“The statute is very clear, the deputy takes over as acting,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters Thursday.

When asked what would happen if the White House ignores the statute, Burr replied, “It’s a legal issue.”

Legal experts agree, pointing to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which states that the principal deputy director of national intelligence “shall act” as DNI during a vacancy in that position.

They say that outweighs the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, another law that gives the president broader discretion generally in choosing officials to fill acting roles.

“I think there would be serious legal questions about the validity of the appointment of any acting DNI who isn’t sue Gordon,” said Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor. “But, it’s not clear to me who would raise them.”

Congress has limited recourse to protest such a move. Lawmakers could, for example, threaten to withhold funding for programs or impeach the acting director who is chosen, but such options are unlikely to be politically viable.

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https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/456009-trump-casts-uncertainty-over-top-intelligence-role