This is not President Trump’s ethos. If he had a motto, it would come not from the Bible but from George Orwell’s “1984”: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Trump has waged an unrelenting war on the truth. He has not just lied with pathological regularity (the Post fact-checker documented nearly 11,000 falsehoods as of last month). He has also cynically denigrated truthful sources of information as “fake news.” Trump insists that his followers should believe his pronouncements over the evidence of their own eyes and ears. As he said a year ago: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” If Trump says that 2+2=5, he expects his acolytes to nod in zombified acquiescence.
So it is no surprise that the president has been at odds since day one with the U.S. intelligence community. Indeed, even before being inaugurated, Trump compared the intelligence agencies to the Nazis because he (wrongly) blamed them for the leak of the Steele Dossier alleging that he had been compromised by Russia.
Serving a president who believes in gaslighting, not truth-telling, Daniel Coats, the outgoing director of national intelligence, has done a brave thing: He has consistently told the truth.
A year ago, Trump kowtowed to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, accepting the Russian president’s dishonest denials of responsibility for attacking the 2016 U.S. election over the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Putin had acted to help elect Trump. Rather than agreeing that 2+2=5, Coats publicly stood up for the intelligence community, vowing, “We will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Coats went on to warn that Russia’s “actions are persistent, they are pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy.” Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum last summer, he did not hide his incredulity that Trump had invited Putin to Washington: “Say that again?” he asked Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. “Okay. That is going to be special.” He even admitted that he would have advised Trump against meeting one-on-one with Putin — not that Trump asked his opinion.
After Trump made evident his displeasure, Coats learned to be more circumspect in his public comments — but he still refused to tailor intelligence assessments to fit Trump’s bizarre misconceptions. Presenting the intelligence community’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment” in January, Coats said that the Islamic State would continue “to stoke violence" in Syria; Trump claimed “we have won against ISIS.” Coats said that North Korea would not denuclearize; Trump claimed “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Coats said that Iran had not cheated on its nuclear accord; Trump claimed that “Iran has long been secretly ‘enriching.’” Confronted with inconvenient truths, Trump lashed out at the messengers, tweeting that “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” and declaring: “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!”
Coats ignored the president’s outburst and kept on doing his duty. In mid-July, he even appointed a senior official to coordinate election security. Given that Trump has said he would be willing to again accept foreign help to win an election, and that Senate Republicans have blocked election-security legislation, this might well have been the final act of courage that sealed Coats’s fate.
Now Trump has forced out Coats in his effort to bend the intelligence community to his will. Nominated to replace him is Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), a former mayor of Heath, Tex., (population: less than 9,000) and former U.S. attorney in Texas. Ratcliffe has no qualifications in the intelligence field, but he does have a history of slavish loyalty to Trump — as he demonstrated by berating and maligning special counsel Robert S. Mueller III during the House Judiciary Committee hearing last week. Ratcliffe’s attacks on a war hero and public servant with an impeccable record of integrity and service to country were repugnant. But he passed his job audition by showing that he would subordinate all considerations, including the truth itself, to Trump’s political interests.
Simply because Trump has picked Ratcliffe doesn’t mean the Senate has to confirm him. Just as Republican senators dissuaded Trump from nominating two unqualified political hacks to the Federal Reserve board, so now it behooves them to dissuade Trump from nominating an unqualified political hack to run the U.S. intelligence community. If the Senate confirms Ratcliffe, it will be yet more evidence that Republicans are willing to sacrifice U.S. security to serve a president elected with Russian help.