Trump appoints a controversial ally as chief of intelligence

US President Donald Trump announced Friday the appointment of Republican Representative John Ratcliffe as head of the intelligence services, sparking further controversy over a critical position that has been vacant for months.

Trump had proposed his 53-year-old ally as director of national intelligence after Dan Coates resigned last July. But Ratcliffe was forced to withdraw his candidacy in front of sharp criticism from Democrats for his background and qualifications, amid tepid responses from top Republicans.

In his stead, Trump appointed counterterrorism expert Joseph McGuire as acting director to oversee 17 agencies from the intelligence community, including the CIA and the National Security Agency.

But he dismissed McGuire on February 20 after a senior intelligence official told Congress in a closed session that the Russians were interfering again in the US elections to support Trump's bid for a second term.

Appointments and dismissals continued, with Trump appointing another ally, Richard Grenelle, two weeks ago. However, this former ambassador to Germany did not have the necessary experience and his appointment was considered highly politicized.

Some intelligence experts view the recent appointment as a tactic by Trump to ensure that Grinnell remains outside the legal status of acting directors who have not been approved by the Senate.

"The formal launch of his appointment will allow Richard Grenell to continue as acting National Intelligence Director beyond March 11, and for 210 days after Ratcliffe refused or withdraws," said University of Texas law professor Steve Vladik.

And Ratcliff boldly defends Trump, often appearing on Fox News to publish conspiracy theories and reject the intelligence community’s conclusions that Russia tried to bolster the president’s efforts to win the 2016 election.

Trump said on Friday that he had declined to officially name Ratcliffe while he was not preparing an "inspector general report" that he did not specify.

"John is a great man with great talent," Trump tweeted.

Trump was determined to appoint a person close to him politically as the head of the intelligence community, whom he considered hostile and replete with information leakers.

Trump considered Dan Coates, who has held the post of director of national intelligence for three years, a political opponent that protects the so-called "conspiracy theory" that Trump considers an obstacle to his agenda.

He was particularly upset when a CIA analyst lodged a complaint with a reporter in August about his dealings in Ukraine that led to a trial with the aim of isolating him on the charge of exploiting influence.

Ratcliffe's appointment could spark a battle in Congress, amid reports that Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, which must approve the appointment, raised questions about it in August.

Republican Senator Richard Boer, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, made no comment on Friday about his opinion of Ratcliffe's qualifications.

He said in a statement, "I look forward to receiving the letter of official appointment of Congressman Ratcliffe and his application in the system applied in the Senate."

Senator John Warner, the commission's top Democrat, hinted Friday that Ratcliffe could run into big hurdles.

"The last time this appointment was unsuccessful, bipartisan questions were raised about Rep Ratcliffe's background and qualifications," he said.

"It is difficult for me to see that something new has happened to change reality," he added.


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