Ratcliffe argued that Mueller had no right to say that he never exonerated Trump, because the president should have been presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not. But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume 2 of this report puts him,” Ratcliffe said.
That turn in the spotlight appears to have solidified a positive impression on the president, who on Sunday tweeted that Ratcliffe “will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves” as the next director for national intelligence.
But first, Ratcliffe must be confirmed by the Senate, where leading Democrats accused him Sunday of being Trump’s top pick because of his efforts to please the president.
“It’s clear that Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to President Trump with his demagogic questioning of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said in a statement. “If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and nonpartisanship, it would be a big mistake.”
A spokeswoman for Ratcliffe did not return a request late Sunday for comment.
Ratcliffe represents the seventh-most-Republican district in the country, according to the Cook Political Voting Index, and trumpets his conservative voting record and his ties to Trump far more than the current director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, whose differences with Trump over his approach to adversaries such as Russia have often played out in public.
Coats, a Republican who was a longtime senator and congressman from Indiana before joining the administration, frequently won accolades from Democrats for being willing to contradict the president in the course of doing his job.
“The mission of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power. As DNI, Daniel Coats stayed true to that mission,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted Sunday.
Ratcliffe has not denied that Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. And before Trump came along, he, too, was allied with more classic Republican conservatives, serving as an aide to former presidential candidate and current Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) during his presidential campaign, helping scout potential Cabinet picks.
Yet in recent years, Ratcliffe has been one of the GOP’s leading voices alleging that bias at the FBI corrupted investigations of Trump’s alleged Russia ties and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. He also has alleged to Mueller that although Russian interference is a serious matter, it may have benefited Clinton more than Trump.
Mueller isn’t the first senior federal official Ratcliffe has accused of running an investigation biased against the president. Even before Trump was elected, he did the same with then-FBI Director James B. Comey, excoriating him in September 2016 for allowing Clinton’s lawyers to be present for her interview during the bureau’s investigation of her use of the private email server.
Last year, Ratcliffe’s name was floated as a possible replacement for former attorney general Jeff Sessions, whom Trump replaced with William P. Barr. Ratcliffe, who briefly served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas under President George W. Bush and worked as the office’s chief of anti-terrorism and national security, was at the time involved in the GOP-led congressional investigations of the FBI’s Trump and Clinton inquiries as a member of the Judiciary Committee.
He joined the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year, where he has been considered the GOP’s replacement for former congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), an accomplished prosecutor skilled in executing detailed, stinging examinations of witnesses in closed-door interviews and from the dais.
In the past several months, Ratcliffe has endorsed investigations of the origins of the Trump inquiry, presently being run by Barr and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, as a means of exposing alleged bias at the FBI, which Ratcliffe thinks wrongly used its surveillance authority against members of the Trump campaign based on faulty, Democratic-funded information.
On Sunday, just hours before Trump announced his nomination, Ratcliffe declared a political victory for the president, and defeat for the Democrats, who he said “overplayed their hand.”
“It was just a train wreck of a week for the Democrats, and it was a great week for Donald Trump because of that,” Ratcliffe said on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures,” opining that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) were “starting to look more like Laurel and Hardy” for continuing to investigate the president.
On Sunday, Schiff tweeted his thanks to Coats for serving “with such distinction,” adding that “he has had the independence and strength to speak truth to power.”
He did not comment publicly on Ratcliffe’s nomination.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the television network that airs ”Sunday Morning Futures.” It’s Fox News.