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John Ratcliffe, Trump’s pick for top intel post, withdraws amid scrutiny over exaggerated bio

Sunday: John Ratcliffe picked for top intel post. Friday: Ratcliffe withdraws.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on July 24, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump just announced that Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, his pick to become the next director of national intelligence, won’t seek the nomination after all.

It’s a stunning reversal. The president announced his selection on Sunday — just five days ago — when he also noted that America’s current top spy, Daniel Coats, was resigning. But Ratcliffe has had a tough week, with report after report showing that he exaggerated his qualifications and background.

As a result, it seems both Trump and Ratcliffe chose to pull the plug on the nomination, though the president blames the media for forcing his hand.

“Our great Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media. Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people,” Trump tweeted in a Friday afternoon thread. “John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country.”

It’s unclear as of now who Trump will nominate next for the nation’s top intelligence post. What’s known, though, is that he won’t follow protocol and elevate Sue Gordon, the deputy national intelligence chief, to be acting director when Coats leaves on August 15. That means he may name someone else to leapfrog Gordon and temporarily oversee America’s 16 intelligence agencies, hundreds of thousands of staff, and more than $53 billion budget.

It sure looked like Ratcliffe wasn’t going to be nominated

Pulling Ratcliffe is a loss for the president. The Congress member is a staunch Trump loyalist who fiercely questioned the US intelligence community and law enforcement over its handling of their Russia collusion probes. He also spent his time during Robert Mueller’s hearings in Congress last week excoriating the former special counsel’s integrity and the investigation’s findings.

But from the start, it never really looked likely that Ratcliffe would be confirmed by the Senate.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, told Trump not to nominate Ratcliffe, advice that was clearly ignored. He also took nearly a day to openly congratulate the Congress member on the news. And when asked by reporters what he thought of Ratcliffe, he offered a cool answer.

“I talked to him on the phone last night — it’s the first contact I’ve ever had with him,” Burr told the New York Times on Monday. “I look forward to getting to know him, and if I get an official nomination, I’ll process it through the committee.”

Other senators were unlikely to warm to Ratcliffe since it appears he wildly exaggerated his national security credentials.

Ratcliffe has frequently boasted about overseeing the arrest of 300 illegal immigrants in one day at a poultry plant in 2008, a brag he even lists on his website. But the Washington Post on Thursday found that he played at best a “supporting role” in an operation led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that also involved five US attorneys’ offices in five states.

“Only 45 workers were charged by prosecutors in Ratcliffe’s office, court documents show,” the Post reported. “Six of those cases were dismissed, two of them because the suspects turned out to be American citizens.”

“Two people involved in the planning or execution of the enforcement effort said they could not recall Ratcliffe playing a central role,” the report continued.

That’s not all. Ratcliffe also said he personally convicted terrorists accused of funneling money to Hamas. But his own aide confirmed to the New York Times on Tuesday that the congressman’s account wasn’t completely accurate. The lawmaker had investigated issues related to an initial mistrial but didn’t actually prosecute the case.

What’s more, Ratcliffe had also claimed then-President George W. Bush appointed him to the position of “chief of anti-terrorism and national security in the Eastern District of Texas.” The problem, though, is that position doesn’t exist, experts note. Instead, he served in a less prestigious administrative and coordinating role when it came to terrorism issues in the district.

At best, then, Ratcliffe could honestly claim he was a former federal law enforcement official, mayor of an 8,000-strong Texas city, and since 2014 a member of Congress. That’s not too shabby as a résumé for an American politician, but it offered razor-thin credentials to oversee the country’s federal intelligence agencies.