WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s pick for national intelligence director, Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, withdrew from consideration Friday amid concerns in Congress about his experience and qualifications.
The move, coming just five days after Trump announced plans to nominate Ratcliffe, underscored the uncertainty over his confirmation prospects. Democrats openly dismissed the Republican congressman as an unqualified partisan and Republicans offered only lukewarm and tentative expressions of support.
The announcement leaves the intelligence community without a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader at a time when the U.S. government is grappling with North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, the prospect of war with Iran and the anticipated efforts of Russia or other foreign governments to interference in the American political system.
In a tweet Friday, Trump said Ratcliffe had decided to stay in Congress so as to avoid “months of slander and libel.”
Trump didn’t cite specific media reports, though multiple stories in the last week have questioned Ratcliffe’s qualifications and suggested that he had misrepresented his experience as a federal prosecutor in Texas.
Ratcliffe is a frequent Trump defender who fiercely questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week.
Even as Mueller laid bare concerns that Russia was working to interfere with U.S. elections again, Ratcliffe remained focused on the possibility that U.S. intelligence agencies had overly relied on unverified opposition research in investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
In his own statement, Ratcliffe said he remained convinced that he could have done the job “with the objectivity, fairness and integrity that our intelligence agencies need and deserve.”
“However,” he added, “I do not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue.”
Ratcliffe would have replaced former intelligence director Dan Coats, who repeatedly clashed with Trump and announced his resignation on Sunday.
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said in a statement that he respects Ratcliffe’s decision and he is committed to moving the official nomination through committee.
“There is no substitute for having a Senate-confirmed director in place to lead our Intelligence Community,” Burr said.
Senate Republicans were publicly lukewarm on Ratcliffe’s nomination. Some expressed concerns that the House lawmaker, who was viewed as a partisan, did not come with the gravitas of Coats, who had longtime relations as a former senator. Some senators said they had never even heard of him before his questioning of Mueller.
Democrats strongly criticized Ratcliffe’s partisanship, noting he was a vocal skeptic of former special counsel Mueller’s investigation. They said he wasn’t suited for a position that is designed to objectively oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies.