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Trump Withdraws Ratcliffe Nomination Under Fire Over Falsehoods

Trump has been forced to withdraw his support from yet another top nominee over scandals and a severe lack of qualifications — this time Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), who was set to lead U.S. intelligence agencies.

On Friday, Trump announced via Twitter that Ratcliffe will no longer be his nominee for next director of national intelligence, blaming the media for his decision to nominate a wildly unqualified person for the position.

Ratcliffe “is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media,” Trump complained. He then claimed, without any evidence, that Ratcliffe would face “months of slander and libel” if the nomination went forward. Trump ended by vowing to “announc[e] my nomination for DNI shortly.” (In December 2018, Trump promised to name a new defense secretary “shortly,” and it took him 195 days to do so.)

Ratcliffe was nominated by Trump less than a week ago, on July 28, and immediately faced multiple scandals, including the discovery that he lied on his congressional campaign website, claiming to have convicted terror suspects, when those who actually worked on the case had no recollection of him being involved at all.

Ratcliffe also faced accusations of being woefully unprepared for the job. Ratcliffe was not known as a hard worker on the House Intelligence Committee and was unwilling to travel overseas on key trips to meet with CIA officers who were at the forefront of the intelligence community. Current and former intelligence officers described him as “the least qualified person ever nominated to oversee the country’s intelligence agencies.”

Trump’s humiliating backtracking less than a week after nominating Ratcliffe is nothing new for nominees in the Trump era. He has nominated a shocking number of unqualified nominees who eventually withdrew from consideration.

In 2016, Monica Crowley withdrew from consideration for a National Security Council job after reports of plagiarism surfaced. Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) backed down from taking a position as “drug czar” after legislation he pushed actually hurt efforts to fight the opioid crisis.

Trump contemplated nominating David Clarke, a violent sheriff with a history of prisoner abuse, to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Sam Clovis, a Trump nominee for an undersecretary role at the Agriculture Department, withdrew amidst allegations of ties to Russia.

Mark Green made disparaging comments about Islam and had to withdraw as Trump’s pick to be Army secretary.

Trump wanted Robert Weaver to be the head of Indian Health Services, but the nomination abruptly ended after an investigation uncovered Weaver had inflated his resume with outright fabrications.

Trump’s picks to lead the Department of Labor and Veterans Affairs also withdrew over various scandals.

And recently, Trump withdrew the nomination of businessman and former presidential contender Herman Cain for a position with the Federal Reserve after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Ratcliffe joins a long list of disgraceful and disqualified nominees put forth by Trump, only to be withdrawn days or weeks later.

Oliver Willis contributed to this report.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

As DNI, Ratcliffe May Target Washington Post

Imagine the indictment of a former national security official in the Obama administration for violation of the Espionage Act. Imagine James Clapper or Sally Yates facing the same charges as Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning.

That dream of right-wing media (and some left-wing critics) came one step closer to reality Sunday, when President Trump announced the appointment of Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas as the new director of national intelligence. On Sunday, Ratcliffe told Fox News host Maria Bartiromohis number one idea for “investigation of the investigators”: prosecute a source of The Washington Post.

Ratcliffe expressed the hope that the Justice Department will investigate the leak to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in January 2017 that led to the resignation of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Ignatius’ reporting raised the possibility that Flynn had lied about a pre-inauguration conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was forced to resign after only 24 days on the job.

Flynn’s “phone call with the Russian ambassador was a highly classified NSA intercept,” Ratcliffe said. “Someone in the Obama administration leaked that call to the Washington Post. That’s a felony.”

Both legally and factually, Ratcliffe’s statement is open to question, which is no surprise. Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor who has served in Congress since 2015, is short on intelligence experience and long on dubious claims. According to ABC News, he took credit for a terrorism financing case that other attorneys say he had nothing do with. He claimed that leaked FBI texts revealed the existence of an anti-Trump “secret society” in the FBI, a story that was picked up by Sean Hannity and Fox News. In fact, the Daily Beast notes the reference to “secret society” was a passing joke, and Trump’s defenders have dropped the “secret society” meme. Whether Ratcliffe’s nomination will be approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee is an open question.

Ratcliffe’s idea for prosecuting Ignatius’ source is the fourth iteration of Trump’s campaign to “investigate the investigators,” which the president hopes will turn the tables on his legal tormenters. First, John Huber, U.S. Attorney in Utah, was assigned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate the opening of the investigation of Carter Page, the Trump hanger-on who was never charged with a crime. Second, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, took over Huber’s probe and is expected to report this fall. Third, Attorney General Bill Bar assigned another U.S. Attorney, John Durham, to delve into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation; Durham’s probe is ongoing.

In addition, Ratcliffe’s claim that Ignatius’ column was based on an “NSA intercept” is unconfirmed. Ignatius has never said that. Indeed, it is not clear that the U.S. government has acknowledged that NSA intercepted Kislyak’s conversations, meaning it is possible that Ratcliffe himself may have broken the law against unauthorized disclosure.

Asked about Ratcliffe’s remarks, Ignatius said, “No comment.”

Ratcliffe’s hypothetical case is based on two sentences from Ignatius’ column of January 12, 2017, “Why did Obama dawdle on Russia’s hacking?”:

“According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?”

Those were the killer questions. At the time, Ignatius wrote, Flynn and Kislyak had already acknowledged that they had talked. Both said publicly—and falsely—that they did not discuss U.S. sanctions on Russia. If Ignatius knew the substance of their conversation, he did not say it in the column. But because Flynn had indeed talked about sanctions with the ambassador and lied to colleagues about it, his days were numbered. When FBI agents interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017, he lied again under oath.

By the end of the month, Sally Yates, a soon-to-depart Obama Justice Department official, informed the White House (in the words of another Post article) that she believed Flynn “had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.”

The message, according to the Post, “was prompted by concerns that ­Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the ­Russian diplomat, had told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said.”

So, around the time Ignatius wrote his column, Yates and other senior officials had definitive knowledge of “the nature” of the Flynn-Kislyak “communications,” and their information did not come from the testimony of either participant.

Where did it come from? An NSA intercept is one plausible source. It has long been an open secret that NSA routinely eavesdrops on the conversations of foreign ambassadors in Washington.

From a legal point of view, the key question is whether Ignatius’ source was sharing classified information when he or she said, “Flynn phoned … Kislyak several times on Dec. 29.” If so, Ratcliffe might have a case.

“The Justice Department does have a lot of legal precedent for saying that, if the information was classified, the person in the government who shared it violated the Espionage Act,” says Kate Martin, civil liberties lawyer for the Center for American Progress. “There are also strong First Amendment arguments against bringing charges on that basis.”

Assange and Manning were charged with violating the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law that forbids “unauthorized persons” from taking “national defense information” and either “retaining” it or delivering it to “persons not entitled to receive it.”

Politically, Ratcliffe’s idea is attractive for the Trump White House because Trump loathes publisher Jeff Bezos—because the paper’s coverage of the Trump Foundation was fatally embarrassing to the Trump Foundation, and because the ex-spy chiefs who criticize Trump have always enforced the Espionage Act selectively.

“It’s no secret that the rules are different for David Petraeus than for Chelsea Manning,” says Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the ACLU. “The government tolerates, even encourages leaks of classified information from senior officials, while whistleblowers are punished.”

The double standard is engrained in bipartisan Washington culture. In the runup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush administration officials selectively leaked information about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program without fear of prosecution. In 2015, the Obama White House leaked highly classified details about the raid to kill Osama bin Laden and faced no consequences.

By prosecuting the Post’s source, the Trump Justice Department could claim it was abolishing the double standard. As director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe would be in a position to help. Trump has empowered Barr to declassify documents from the Horowitz and Durham inquiries as he sees fit. Ratcliffe has little intelligence experience, but he does have a track record of distilling facts into misleading, Fox-friendly sound bites. “Ratcliffe would be a natural enabler in a pursuit to cherry-pick material—or, more to the point, to find material worth cherry-picking,” notes Slate’s Fred Kaplan.

If the deeply concerned intelligence officials don’t manage to kill his nomination and if the Senate approves Ratcliffe to run the nation’s 17 intelligence services, then the source of Ignatius’ story has reason to worry. A senior U.S. official might get treated like Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning. Some would see a witch hunt. Others would call it rough justice. That would be a victory for Trump, which is one reason why the Ratcliffe nomination will be resisted by the intelligence community. 

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

Trump Nominee Ratcliffe ‘The Least Qualified Ever’ To Head Intelligence Agencies

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), Trump’s pick to be the next national intelligence director, “is the least qualified person ever nominated to oversee the country’s intelligence agencies,” according to current and former intelligence officers who spoke with the Washington Post.

Officials also suggested Ratcliffe “had neither the experience nor the political temperament to lead the intelligence community,” according to the Post.

In a Monday interview with MSNBC, former CIA Director John Brennan said Ratcliffe “appears to be somebody who is more interested in pleasing Donald Trump.”

Some senators are raising the alarm about both Ratcliffe’s qualifications and his temperament.

“Congressman Ratcliffe is the most partisan and least qualified individual ever nominated to serve as director of national intelligence,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “The sum total of his qualifications appears to be his record of promoting Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the investigation into Russian interference and calling for prosecution of Trump’s political enemies. ”

“This is a dangerous time, and America needs the most qualified and objective individuals possible to lead our intelligence agencies,” he added. “Anything less risks American lives.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described Ratcliffe as “a three-term tea party congressman who … lacks the experience required to lead an intelligence agency, much less the entire intelligence community.”

Ratcliffe’s sketchy record indicates plenty of reason for concern.

On Tuesday, ABC News revealed Ratcliffe lied about his involvement in a key post-9/11 anti-terror case. On his congressional campaign website, Ratcliffe falsely boasted he “convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization.” In reality, Ratcliffe’s name is not mentioned in the case file and officials who worked on the case don’t remember Ratcliffe being involved at all.

One official said Ratcliffe looked at one case that ended in a mistrial, however “nothing came of it,” the official told NBC News. Ratcliffe didn’t make any recommendations and wasn’t involved in the case that led to convictions.

The Daily Beast reports that Ratcliffe was responsible for one of the most easily debunked conspiracy theories about the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. Ratcliffe alleged that there may have been a “secret society” at the FBI that was working toward Trump’s defeat, but the theory fell apart due to overwhelming contradictory evidence.

As recently as Sunday, Ratcliffe made unsubstantiated claims about crimes committed during the Obama administration. “Ratcliffe didn’t specify which crimes, and he didn’t offer any evidence,” NBC News reported.

Ratcliffe made news during the hearings of special counsel Robert Mueller, when Ratcliffe attacked Mueller repeatedly and questioned the special counsel’s integrity.

“Prior to the Mueller hearing, if somebody had asked me about John, I would have said he was an honorable and decent guy,” Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor, told NBC News. “I thought his treatment of Mueller was unfair, disingenuous and wrong, and it gives me pause.”

Rosenberg is not alone in questioning Trump’s pick to lead the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Trump’s Intel Nominee Ratcliffe Promoted Conspiracy Theories

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), President Donald Trump’s newly announced pick to be the next director of National Intelligence overseeing the 17 U.S. intelligence services, doesn’t have much experience in intelligence. Previous occupants of the position have had long careers serving in the U.S. Senate, military, foreign service, or intelligence agencies. By contrast, Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney and small town mayor, is a third-term congressman who joined the House Intelligence Committee a scant six months ago.

What Ratcliffe really brings to the table is a willingness to protect Trump from the implications of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by parroting the fantasies of the president’s most ardent Fox News defenders.

A few days after interviewing for the job, the congressman benefited from the opportunity to “essentially audition for the president” during Mueller’s Wednesday hearings, The New York Times reported. If those hearings were Ratcliffe’s audition, then callbacks came Thursday when he used an interview on Fox & Friends, one of the president’s favorite programs, to play the network’s anti-Mueller hits to the audience of one.

On Fox, Ratcliffe claimed that the Mueller Report was written by “a bunch of lawyers that didn’t like Donald Trump.” He suggested that the way “Russia really did interfere” with the election was with a “fake dossier” provided to Democrats. And he accused former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey of violating the Espionage Act, adding that the Justice Department probe that Attorney General William Barr has ordered could provide “accountability.”

“The big winner yesterday,” he added at one point, “was Donald Trump, because impeachment is dead.”

Trump is trying to replace someone who refused to operate in his personal interest with someone who will. Outgoing National Intelligence Director Dan Coats lost the president’s favor by loudly defending the U.S. intelligence service’s conclusion that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election to benefit Trump, and he has sounded the alarm that the Kremlin will target the 2020 elections as well. Ratcliffe, meanwhile, has adopted Fox host Sean Hannity’s moronic position that the “real collusion” during the 2016 election was between Russia and the Democrats.

Such a personnel shift can have profound consequences. Trump forced out former Attorney General Jeff Sessions because Sessions was unwilling to use the Justice Department to defend the president and punish his enemies. His replacement, Barr, had publicly indicated that he was willing to do so; as attorney general, Barr opened the investigation into the inception of the Mueller probe that Fox hosts had demanded.

Trump wants a National Intelligence director who will similarly parrot Fox conspiracy theories and use the office to the president’s benefit. In Ratcliffe, he believes he’s found his man.