This animated Director Daniel Coats to repeatedly give President Trump some unpleasant facts that ran counter to the president’s notions, such as: North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons; Iran was not immediately taking steps to build a nuclear bomb; Russia was presenting an ongoing threat to U.S. elections. Mr. Coats, who represented Indiana in the House and Senate for 24 years and served as ambassador to Germany, proved refreshingly independent and resilient in his determination to present the truth about the world. He did not bend to Mr. Trump’s taunts that the intelligence community “should go back to school.” The intelligence community deserves a leader with such integrity and backbone.
Now with Mr. Coats’s resignation, the president has announced his intention to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) to the post. Mr. Ratcliffe is one of the most conservative members of the House, a former federal prosecutor and small-town mayor. Mr. Trump’s prerogative is to appoint people he trusts. The Senate must insist on a rigorous vetting. On the matter of speaking unvarnished truth, there was a glimpse of Mr. Ratcliffe last week that causes concern. It came during the hearings on the Russia report by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Ratcliffe’s comments were directly out of Mr. Trump’s playbook, attempting to undermine the special counsel and portraying the probe as somehow driven by various external conspiracies, including from Hillary Clinton. These remarks reeked of deliberate diversion and blind loyalty. They suggest a serious misreading of the Mueller report and not the sharp mind-set that is needed to oversee the intelligence community.
We suggest Mr. Ratcliffe grab a copy of the 9/11 Commission report. On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a daily intelligence briefing that contained the headline “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.” According to the commission, “Most of the intelligence community recognized in the summer of 2001 that the number and severity of threat reports were unprecedented. Many officials told us that they knew something terrible was planned, and they were desperate to stop it.” In the end, the data points were diverse, the dots not connected before the attacks. The question about Mr. Ratcliffe is whether, confronted by such a crisis, he has the gumption and the determination to speak the bald truth to Mr. Trump, who has demonstrated over and over again that his mind is closed about what he does not want to hear.