Now Mr. Ratcliffe is back. Mr. Trump announced Friday that he was putting Mr. Ratcliffe forward again for the DNI job, offering the patently dishonest explanation that Mr. Ratcliffe’s nomination was delayed to await an inspector general’s report about the FBI’s Russia investigation. The real motivation is probably far more cynical: Mr. Trump believes he can now force the Senate to swallow his choice, because the alternative is to retain the even more objectionable acting director he appointed just under two weeks ago.
Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany whom Mr. Trump installed as acting DNI, has even less intelligence experience than Mr. Ratcliffe, a junior member of the House Intelligence Committee. Like Mr. Ratcliffe, he is known mainly for his combative advocacy for the president on television and social media. A law governing Cabinet vacancies would have forced Mr. Grenell to step aside on March 11 if there were no permanent nominee. Mr. Ratcliffe’s nomination exploits a loophole in the law: If the congressman is not confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Grenell can remain in the post for seven more months. Mr. Trump would force the Senate to choose between the two.
One thing they have in common is skepticism about the findings of the intelligence agencies, which they would oversee, that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to aid Mr. Trump. Mr. Ratcliffe has floated the conspiracy theory that the investigation into the meddling was the result of “a secret society of folks within the Department of Justice and the FBI” trying to prevent Mr. Trump’s election. During the recent House impeachment hearings, his shilling for the White House included demands for the investigation of a whistleblower who filed a complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general about Mr. Trump’s attempts to extort political favors from Ukraine. As DNI, Mr. Ratcliffe might order such a probe himself.
More importantly, either Mr. Ratcliffe or Mr. Grenell could be expected to squash further reporting by the intelligence community about Russian interference in this year’s election. Mr. Trump fired the previous acting director, Joseph Maguire, after a member of his staff briefed the House Intelligence Committee that Russia had “developed a preference” for Mr. Trump in 2020. The absence of such reporting in the coming months would, no doubt, make it easier for Moscow to advance Mr. Trump’s cause.
It would be astonishing for Republican senators to countenance such blatant political manipulation of the intelligence community — if they had not already ratified multiple previous abuses by Mr. Trump. Those who wish to preserve their integrity — and that of agencies vital to U.S. national security — will reject both Mr. Ratcliffe and Mr. Grenell and insist on a qualified DNI nominee.