STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Dan Coats' remarkable rebuke to President Trump

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats spent over a decade in the House and Senate and served as ambassador to G...

Posted: Jul 18, 2018 11:28 PM

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats spent over a decade in the House and Senate and served as ambassador to Germany during the George W. Bush administration before reluctantly answering his friend Vice President-elect Mike Pence's pleas to join the Trump administration. It is a decision portrayed almost as a personal favor to a friend -- and one that he may now be regretting.

On Monday, President Trump issued a stunning rebuke to the US national intelligence community, and DNI Coats directly, when he was asked about the government assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. At a press conference after their two-hour-long meeting in Helsinki, Finland, Trump, standing next to Vladimir Putin, said he did not "see any reason why" Russia would be responsible for the election meddling.

"My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it's not Russia." It was a shocking statement coming from an American president standing next to a major adversary. Trump essentially sided with Putin, who has a long history of human rights abuses, over his own intelligence officers. Fellow Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney, were quick to condemn it. McCain called Monday's press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president."

In a remarkable response, Coats sent a statement not long after, standing by his findings. "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security." The statement reasserting the intelligence community's assessment was unprecedented because it was not cleared through official White House channels and reveals a widening chasm between Trump and his intelligence chief.

Coats has long been a critic of Putin and, when he was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was banned from Russia when he called for stronger sanctions after Russia's annexation of Crimea. Undeterred from holding Russia to account, Coats said days ago that "the warning lights are blinking red again" regarding Russian cyber interference.

When I interviewed Coats last December to talk about the relationship between Vice President Mike Pence, a friend of his from Indiana, and Trump, I was surprised to discover how influential Pence was in Coats's decision to take the job. He reluctantly delayed retirement after Pence pleaded with him to accept.

Related: How long can his war Cabinet tolerate Trump's farce?

"We need someone with experience," he says Pence told him. It was a jarring statement -- it's implausible to think of then-Secretary of State John Kerry taking the position because Obama's vice president, Joe Biden, begged him to reconsider. Usually there is reverence for the man elected president and not a lot of heavy convincing or arm twisting necessary. But it struck me that Coats, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, sees himself as a bulwark against all-out chaos.

His job has not been easy. Once, when he brought up a highly sensitive national security issue with the president, Trump told him to "go talk to Jared [Kushner, his son-in-law] about that." Coats found it a little unsettling to be told to talk to a 36-year-old with no government experience, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

He has been forced to defend his work against a president who casts doubt on his credibility. But this is what Coats signed up for when he agreed to sign on with Trump -- and it wouldn't be surprising if he decided to walk away from the deal.

Since the summit, Trump has already tried to walk back his statements of doubt about the US intelligence community, tweeting Monday, "As I said today and many times before, 'I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.' However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past -- as the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!" It may be too little, too late for the director of national intelligence.

Two years before Pence became vice president Coats told me they talked privately about their political futures. Pence was weighing whether to run for governor again or seek the presidency in 2016 and Coats was trying to decide whether to run for re-election to the Senate.

"We talked about the future and where God might lead each of us," Coats said. "I don't believe I would be in my current position had we not had this discussion." Now he probably wishes that talk had never happened.

Huntsville
Overcast
69° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 69°
Florence
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 73°
Fayetteville
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 68°
Decatur
Scattered Clouds
69° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 69°
Scottsboro
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 70°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 131988

Reported Deaths: 2304
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19123337
Mobile13122290
Montgomery8688173
Madison763075
Tuscaloosa7323114
Lee575159
Shelby571950
Baldwin508749
Marshall387943
Calhoun337439
Etowah336547
Morgan321426
Houston272722
Elmore255847
DeKalb237119
St. Clair224335
Walker224380
Talladega207726
Limestone200119
Cullman186218
Dallas174926
Franklin174528
Russell17312
Autauga169124
Lauderdale165333
Colbert160926
Escambia156425
Blount156014
Jackson151611
Chilton150227
Dale133343
Covington131127
Coffee12838
Pike11619
Tallapoosa113683
Chambers113242
Clarke105517
Marion94828
Butler91138
Barbour8387
Winston71612
Marengo70119
Lowndes64927
Pickens63814
Bibb63610
Randolph62212
Hale61528
Lawrence59220
Bullock59114
Geneva5814
Monroe5768
Cherokee56916
Clay5527
Washington54913
Perry5386
Wilcox53111
Conecuh52411
Crenshaw52331
Macon47820
Henry4754
Fayette4269
Sumter41819
Lamar3532
Choctaw34512
Cleburne3326
Greene30015
Coosa1653
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 184409

Reported Deaths: 2233
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30155447
Davidson26017293
Hamilton914489
Rutherford903187
Knox899872
Williamson508936
Sumner470593
Wilson337343
Putnam307037
Out of TN301324
Montgomery296243
Unassigned28916
Bradley285816
Madison270156
Sevier251813
Blount244023
Maury226023
Washington217933
Robertson217233
Sullivan205431
Hamblen183825
Tipton173917
Trousdale16517
Gibson153819
Hardeman153225
Wayne14805
Bedford130916
Dyer127912
Dickson119913
Cumberland115317
Fayette114318
Anderson113311
Henderson113119
Carter112627
Weakley111819
Loudon11156
Coffee110812
Greene110737
Obion10889
McMinn106824
Jefferson106614
Macon102020
Warren10127
Monroe100116
Lawrence97011
Hardin96714
Lauderdale93615
Haywood92116
Lake9152
Franklin9137
Bledsoe8454
Roane8414
Carroll83217
McNairy81016
Cheatham79010
White7849
Rhea78111
Hawkins77016
Cocke7349
Marshall7175
Overton6805
Smith67810
Johnson6482
Henry6029
Chester5919
Lincoln5791
Giles56817
DeKalb54611
Hickman5385
Crockett51319
Marion5007
Decatur4786
Fentress4363
Claiborne4304
Campbell4193
Polk37811
Grainger3503
Union3371
Benton3329
Jackson3055
Morgan3053
Unicoi2801
Cannon2760
Grundy2495
Humphreys2323
Sequatchie2233
Meigs2213
Clay2105
Scott2002
Houston1860
Lewis1771
Stewart1752
Moore1541
Van Buren1530
Perry1460
Hancock1063
Pickett982

Community Events