In an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, Trump said he was not thinking about removing Coats.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Trump said.
Nonetheless, lawmakers have reacted with alarm to the prospect of Coats’s dismissal.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement on Twitter on Wednesday morning defending Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana who had served on the panel.
DNI Dan Coats is a good friend, former Senate colleague, and leader of integrity who has always served our country well. We are fortunate to have a person of his ability and candor to lead our intelligence community.— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) February 20, 2019
“DNI Dan Coats is a good friend, former Senate colleague, and leader of integrity who has always served our country well,” Collins said. “We are fortunate to have a person of his ability and candor to lead our intelligence community.”
Her colleague, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who also sits on the intelligence panel, described Coats as “a model public servant” and voiced concern about the prospect of his firing in a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday.
“When a president — any president — denigrates or ignores factual information presented by the intelligence community . . . he or she is sending a message to the intelligence community: ‘Don’t tell me things I don’t want to hear,’ ” King said.
The prospect of Coats’s dismissal prompted an outcry from members of the House as well.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a tweet that Coats “has been doing an outstanding job.”
Dan Coats has been doing an outstanding job as Director of National Intelligence. He speaks truth to power and gives policy makers the best intelligence possible. He is loyal to the country and constitution, and that is as it should be. https://t.co/U7xQZkIApS— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 20, 2019
“He speaks truth to power and gives policymakers the best intelligence possible,” Schiff said. “He is loyal to the country and constitution, and that is as it should be.”
Rep. Susan Brooks, who like Coats is a Republican from Indiana, said in a statement it would be “very worrisome” if Trump removed Coats “due to differences of opinion regarding national security matters.”
“Coats has earned an exemplary record as a public servant with a significant focus on national security,” Brooks said. “I trust his expertise to make decisions in order to keep our country safe.”
Others said they were skeptical Coats would be removed from his position.
“I don’t see any indication that he’s headed out,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told reporters in Indiana Tuesday night, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. “Unless you’d be completely on opposite ends of the spectrum — then I think it would be hard to work like that. I don’t think we’re there.”
Last year, during an onstage interview at the annual Aspen Security Forum, Coats expressed surprise when he was told Russian President Vladimir Putin had been invited to Washington. He also said he would have advised Trump against speaking one-on-one with Putin during their summit in Helsinki.