Wyden Opposes the Nomination of John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence
Mr. President, I rise today to oppose, in the strongest terms, the nomination of John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence. Senators often come to the floor to talk about the importance of speaking truth to power. John Ratcliffe has demonstrated that he will surrender to power. He is so eager to serve power he will twist the truth, as he demonstrated again and again through this confirmation process.
Both at his confirmation hearing and written responses, John Ratcliffe danced around direct questions about whether he would respect, or even understood the law. He also made a number of extremely disturbing statements that make clear that he has and will misrepresent and politicize intelligence without a moment’s hesitation.
Mr. President, I asked the congressman at his hearing about a law that required a public, unclassified report on who was responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. This was a law, passed by Congress and signed by the president of the United States, and it required the DNI to produce that unclassified report in February. That never happened.
So I simply asked the congressman whether the government was bound by the law. His response? He referred to the law as a “request” for unclassified information. Then he promised to look at it. In other words, he wouldn’t commit to following the law. That, by itself, is a disqualification to be DNI.
This was the pattern throughout his hearing. He had his talking points about following the law – but the moment he was asked anything specific, he danced away. I found this especially disturbing when we got to the question of spying on Americans. I asked him three times – in pre-hearing questions, at the hearing and again after the hearing – whether the statute that prohibits warrantless wiretapping on Americans was binding. His answers were disturbing. Each time, he left himself wiggle room to suggest that, whatever the statute said, the president might have ways to go around it. He also said he’d work with Attorney General Barr who we know has explicitly said that he does not believe that the FISA law is binding on the president.
This is where John Ratcliffe could be truly dangerous. With Donald Trump as president and William Barr as Attorney General, the leadership of the Intelligence Community is one of democracy’s last lines of defense. That’s why the American people need a DNI who understands how the laws protect their rights and won’t start conducting warrantless wiretapping on Americans just because this Attorney General wrongly asserts that it’s legal. But nothing that John Ratcliffe has said, during his confirmation process or throughout his entire career, provides a glimmer of hope that he would speak truth to power and stand up for the rights of Americans.
There are a thousand more reasons to oppose Congressman Ratcliffe’s nomination, but in the interest of time, I will focus on one more – his blatant misrepresentation and politicization of intelligence. This was obvious in how he talked about the Intelligence Community’s assessment that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump. This is undisputed within the Intelligence Community. The Senate Intelligence Committee looked at it up and down, and unanimously determined that it was true. But for John Ratcliffe, the intelligence doesn’t matter. All that matters is that he make Donald Trump happy, and if Donald Trump doesn’t want to acknowledge that the Russians helped him, then those are John Ratcliffe’s marching orders. It is the exact opposite of speaking truth to power – it is total surrender to power.
Congressman Ratcliffe is also perfectly happy to misrepresent the intelligence, even when it’s public and we can all read it with our own eyes. Three times during his hearing he said that the Russians did not succeed in changing the outcome of the 2016 election. This contradicted what the Intelligence Community had written in plain English, which was “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” So I asked him where he got his information. He referred back to the IC’s assessment and the Committee’s report, neither of which supported his statements.
Mr. President, why would he say something that the whole world knows isn’t true? Because Donald Trump wants us to believe that he didn’t benefit from Russian interference and that’s all that matters to John Ratcliffe.
Think about it. If John Ratcliffe is willing to misrepresent intelligence assessments that are already public and that everyone can read for themselves, there’s no telling how he would misrepresent intelligence that is still classified. There is every reason to believe that his public statements would be designed for one purpose, and one purpose only – to please Donald Trump. Neither the Congress nor the American people have any reason to trust that his testimony or his other public statements are accurate.
That situation is a serious threat to democracy. When the Director of National Intelligence has demonstrated that he is willing to bury the actual intelligence and say whatever makes Donald Trump happy at any particular moment, Americans lose confidence in the government. It’s not just about foreign interference in our democracy, although that’s serious enough. It’s about other threats, from countries like Iran, North Korea and China. It’s about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. It’s about whether the government is secretly spying on Americans without a warrant or committing torture. It’s about war and peace, and whether Americans will be asked to die for their country.
The American people look to intelligence leaders for the facts on these and other issues. That is why the DNI must have a foundation of credibility. Time and time again, John Ratcliffe has demonstrated that he does not clear that lowest bar. I urge my colleagues to reject his nomination.