The Republican political consultant Rick Wilson wrote a book titled “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”
One only needs to look at the long list of those forced out of the Trump administration, many with their reputations in tatters, to get his point.
Now, Washington is abuzz with talk that soon Dan Coats, the former Indiana senator who is the director of national intelligence, will join the list of ex-Trump appointees. He, though, is the exception to Wilson’s rule. Coats has only burnished his reputation by being that rare administration official who speaks truth to power, whether that truth is welcomed or believed. In fact, I can think of only one other Trump administration refugee — former UN Ambassador Niki Haley — who didn’t limp out of the executive branch.
I was surprised when President Donald Trump picked Coats — not because Coats wasn’t qualified but because he was, eminently so. In an administration where cabinet members either had no or little experience with the agency they led, or had experience as an industry lobbyist attacking the agency they now ran, Coats was a choice even Democrats could applaud.
He’d been a member of the House of Representatives and then the Senate where he served on the intelligence committee. He was ambassador to Germany at a pivotal time in the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Little wonder he was confirmed by an 85-12 vote in March 2017.
It took only weeks before his first clashes with the president became public fodder when Coats reportedly told House investigators that the president wanted him to announce he’d been exonerated by the probe into Russian election interference. Coats instead issued a statement saying that it was “not appropriate for me to comment.”
In July 2018, Trump shocked many as he stood in Helsinki, Finland, next to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and chose to believe Putin’s denials that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
“My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me, and some others,” Trump said. “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
The next day Coats released a statement saying the intelligence community’s job was to give the president “fact-based assessments.”
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” he said. “And we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Can I get an ‘Amen’?
Then came Trump’s romance with the North Korean dictator. While the president literally talked of love letters with the man who kills his own family to preserve power, Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that North Korea remains a threat, with little likelihood of giving up nuclear weapons.
There have been rumors ever since that Vice President Mike Pence, a fellow Hoosier, stopped him from resigning and that Trump was interviewing people for Coats’ job. No matter why Coats is still there, I’m glad he is.
Look at this week’s news. On July 19 — almost exactly a year after Coats contradicted Trump on Russian election interference — Coats created a new position to oversee election security efforts.
“Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority” for the intelligence community, Coats said.
Too bad it’s not a priority for the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Wednesday, reiterating his report at a Congressional hearing, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller repeatedly stressed the danger of foreign tampering in our elections. Asked by one Republican if he thought the Russian interference in 2016 was a one-off, Mueller was clear.
“Oh, this wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller responded. “And they expect to do it in the next campaign.”
Yet on that same day, McConnell blocked a bill that would require campaigns to alert law enforcement if they learn of foreign attempts to interfere in elections. And McConnell has rejected calls for the Senate to vote on legislation already passed by the House to improve election security measures.
While Trump and his minions — including Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who has been mentioned as a possible successor to Coats — continue to call Russian interference a hoax and witch hunt, Coats is listening to fact-based assessments and doing what he can to address them.
Trump may not appreciate that.
The nation should.
Mary Beth Schneider is an editor with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by Franklin College journalists.