Trump selected inexperienced, hard-right Congressman John Ratcliffe’s to be the Director of National Intelligence, but the Republicans in the Senate sent word that they would not confirm Trumps’ unqualified lapdog.

This story from today’s Washington Post by James Hohmann shows what a difference this made. Had Ratcliffe been confirmed, the whistleblower complaint would never have seen the light of day..


THE BIG IDEA: The Ukraine donnybrook shows the degree to which institutions depend on the individuals inside of them to function as they were designed. The whistleblower who sounded an alarm while others bit their tongues showed that. So did the inspector general who alerted Congress to his complaint when President Trump’s loyalists were trying to keep it secret. And the public got a glimpse during a House committee hearing on Thursday of how differently this scandal might have played out if Trump’s previous pick to lead the nation’s intelligence community had been confirmed.

The temperamental contrast was stark between Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), the hyper-partisan congressman who wanted the job, and Joe Maguire, the decorated military hero who got it instead and seemed eager to show he’s no one’s toady. Democrats faulted Maguire, as the acting director of national intelligence, for checking in with the very entities who a CIA whistleblower had accused of wrongdoing, including Bill Barr’s Justice Department and Trump’s White House counsel’s office, to see if they wanted to claim executive privilege to prevent the disclosure of his allegations.

Maguire noted earnestly that he was new in the role and wanted to do the right thing. The retired admiral had been running the National Counterterrorism Center after 36 years in the Navy, including as commander of Seal Team 6. He said he’s sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution 11 times. “No one can take an individual’s integrity away,” Maguire explained. “It can only be given away.”

Ratcliffe’s questioning of Maguire – which was more of a monologue, really – offered a window into how he might have handled both the complaint and the hearing if he’d found himself in the hot seat. The congressman made the case that Trump prodding his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former vice president Joe Biden was “lawful conduct.” He claimed without evidence that the whistleblower was “wrong in numerous respects” and dubiously compared the complaint to the “Steele dossier” in the Russia investigation. “The United States is allowed to solicit help from a foreign government in an ongoing criminal investigation, which is exactly what President Trump did in that conversation,” Ratcliffe declared.

Ratcliffe’s hopes of getting formally nominated went down in flames on Aug. 2 after Senate Republicans expressed concern about his qualifications and evidence that he had padded his résumé. The three-term congressman had impressed Trump in July with his hostile questioning of former special counsel Bob Mueller. When the president pulled his supportjust a week after announcing his intention to nominate Ratcliffe, reporters asked Trump why he put someone with such limited national security experience up for such an important job without fully vetting him. “I think he would’ve picked it up very quickly,” Trump replied. “I give out a name to the press and they vet for me. We save a lot of money that way.” Trump gave the job instead to Maguire, who had no idea he’d immediately be thrust into the center of an epic fight between the White House and Congress.

During the hearing, Ratcliffe also falsely insisted that the legal opinion from the Justice Department, which claimed that intelligence community officials didn’t need to turn over the whistleblower complaint because it was outside of their jurisdiction, was written by nonpolitical lawyers. “That’s an opinion from the Department of Justice ethics lawyers – not political appointees, but career officials that serve Republicans and Democrats,” Ratcliffe said during the hearing.

In fact, that opinion – released publicly on Wednesday – was authored by Trump appointee Steven Engel. Engel earned a reputation as a highly partisan figure in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, which is why Democrats fought his confirmation to run the Office of Legal Counsel. He was confirmed by a vote of 51 to 47 in November 2017. As a former U.S. attorney, it seems inconceivable that Ratcliffe would not know the Office of Legal Counsel is led by a political appointee.

Audio: In private U.N. speech, Trump calls whistleblower ‘almost a spy’

— It’s also very revealing to contrast how Maguire and Trump talked about the whistleblower. The acting DNI testified that he does not know who wrote the document, but he said he doesn’t question the person’s motives. He added that he believes they “acted in good faith” and insisted that he is glad the information has finally come out. “I think the whistleblower did the right thing,” Maguire said. “I think he followed the law every step of the way.”

As Maguire was testifying, Trump declared that the whistleblower acted like “a spy” and suggested that the legally protected conduct was akin to “treason.” Speaking in New York at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the president made clear that he’d also like to ferret out anyone else who provided evidence of his misconduct. “I want to know who’s the person that gave the whistleblower … the information because that’s close to a spy,” he said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.”

The Los Angeles Times published an audio recording of the closed-door speech, and The Post later obtained a video. “We’re at war,” Trump said in his ad-libbed remarks, referring to the scandal. “These people are sick. They’re sick. And nobody’s called it out like I do.”

— Trump and his band of brothers have been leaning on the language of war this week. Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, congratulated Democrats at the Maguire hearing on the “rollout of their latest information warfare operation against the president.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House strategist, compared Nancy Pelosi’s speech on Tuesday night to the start of the Civil War in 1861. “Pelosi’s announcement to begin a formal process at 5 p.m. was the shot at Fort Sumter,” Bannon said. “Now you cannot freelance, you cannot go rogue. You have to be disciplined. You have to be high and tight.”

— Former DNI James Clapper likened the president’s comments about the whistleblower to “witness retaliation.” “What’s really bad about it is this is going to have a very chilling effect on any other potential whistleblowers,” the Trump critic said on CNN.