By ALLISON PECORIN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — The Senate has confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to serve as Director of National Intelligence, a role President Donald Trump has been working to install him in since last summer as part of an effort to reshape the intelligence community he often characterizes as working against him.
The nomination cleared by a party-line vote of 49-44.
Trump’s initial nomination of Ratcliffe was withdrawn last year after reports surfaced that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his resume and claimed experience that he did not have. His nomination was resubmitted for a second time in February just as Trump’s impeachment trial was winding to a close. Ratcliffe was part of a select group of House members who supported the president during the trial, providing statements to the media on the president’s behalf.
Ratcliffe’s nomination cleared the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday after earning the support of the committee’s new acting chairman, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio is currently serving in the role in place of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who resigned the chairmanship amid an ongoing investigation into his stock trades.
“I’m happy we were able to get Ratcliffe out of the committee and hopefully get floor action quickly,” Rubio told reporters. “It’s an important position and it needs to be filled as soon as possible.”
Democrats opposed Ratcliffe’s nomination when it was first submitted last summer and continued to oppose it as it moved through committee this week. They’ve raised concerns that Ratcliffe is ill-fit for the job, overly partisan and lacking necessary experience.
“I don’t see what has changed since last summer … when the president decided not to proceed with your nomination over concerns about your inexperience, partisanship and past statements that seemed to embellish your record,” Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said at Ratcliffe’s confirmation hearing earlier this month.
Even Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., who often votes in favor of Trump’s nominees, rejected Ratcliffe’s nomination on Thursday. Manchin, who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year, said while he normally believes the president should be able to choose his advisers, those serving in national security roles should be nonpartisan.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for Congressman John Ratcliffe to lead our national intelligence community because of his lack of intelligence experience and his history of partisanship as a Member of Congress,” Manchin said in a statement
In his former role in the House of Representatives, Ratcliffe defended the president and pushed back during a hearing with Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller on the intelligence community’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia in 2016. Ratcliffe took issue with the special counsel’s office’s findings, outlined in the second volume, that it could not draw a definitive conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed the Russia investigation.
“Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not. But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where volume 2 of this report puts him,” Ratcliffe said.
Ratcliffe’s appointment comes as other efforts within the Department of Justice and Senate are moving forward to reexamine the underpinnings of the Russia probe. Since last year, Attorney General William Barr has sought to work with intelligence community leaders in scrutinizing the origins of the Russia investigation. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are leading similar investigative inquiries.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier endorsed these investigative efforts.
“Senate Republicans are taking steps to issue new subpoenas to a wide variety of Obama administration officials with some relationship to the abuses,” McConnell said in a floor speech Tuesday, referencing errors made with the surveillance of a former Trump campaign official and the prosecution of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, which the Department of Justice has moved to dismiss. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI under oath.
“The American people deserve answers about how such abuses could happen, and we intend to get those answers,” McConnell added.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Ratcliffe tried to ease concerns about the potential for administrative influence on his work in the new role.
“Let me be very clear: Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence I provide, if confirmed, will not be impacted or altered as a result of outside influence,” Ratcliffe said during the hearing.
Ratcliffe will replace current Acting Director Richard Grenell, who was slated into the role after former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates was dismissed from the position by Trump during the summer of 2019.
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