President Trump has nominated Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence and CNN's Jim Sciutto is not supportive. In addition to an alleged lack of experience, Sciutto condemned the "Trump loyalist" for being "a fierce critic of Robert Mueller’s handling investigation." On the Monday edition of CNN Newsroom, Sciutto confronted Utah Republican Chris Stewart about these concerns.
The idea of someone on CNN worrying about someone else being a “loyal” partisan was apparently lost on Sciutto.
Before introducing Stewart, Sciutto wondered if his criticisms of Mueller's conclusion would affect his ability to perform well "what is supposed to be a non-political role." In his viral moment during the Wednesday, Ratcliffe didn't criticize Mueller or the investigation per se, but the much talked about "not exonerated" conclusion, but even the littlest bit of criticism of Mueller is apparently enough to condemn Ratcliffe as a hack in Sciutto's eyes.
Sciutto also ran off the resumés of intelligence heads, past and present, to argue with Stewart that Ratcliffe is unqualified. Stewart rejected the argument, saying the DNI is more akin to the CEO of Home Depot and that before he was DNI, Coats, "had a similar background to Mr. Ratcliffe." Sciutto wasn't impressed, "But, to be fair, he was a sitting senator for a number of years. Ratcliffe only a couple of years." Sciutto short changed Ratcliffe, because prior to his days in Congress, Ratcliffe was a U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas and Chief of Anti-Terrorism and National Security.
Another unfair criticism Sciutto leveled against Ratcliffe was that given his position as a "loyalist," he might not confront Trump on Russia or election interference, declaring that "there's a great deal of reporting from inside this White House, Mick Mulvaney we know told Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, when she was at DHS not to bring up the Russian interference in the election because the president didn't like to talk about that subject" and asking Stewart if he believes Ratcliffe could be the man to tell Trump what he doesn't want to hear. Sciutto did not mention that Ratcliffe introduced bipartisan legislation in the House that it a federal crime to hack a voting machine and unlike the stunt the Democrats pulled last week, this legislation actually unanimously passed the Senate.
Not once during the segment did Sciutto cite what Ratcliffe actually believes about Russia, North Korea, election interference, or a host of other issues, but since Ratcliffe criticized Mueller he is unqualified for a 'non-political' position, so says the former Obama State Department official.
Here is a transcript for the July 29 interview:
10:34 AM ET
JIM SCIUTTO: And this morning, we also have news, a major Trump Administration cabinet shakeup. The president nominated Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe to be the most senior intelligence in the country: The Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe is a Trump loyalist, a fierce critic of Robert Mueller’s handling investigation. That is spurring questions about Ratcliffe’s nomination given what is supposed to be a non-political role of the DNI Chief. Let's discuss now with Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, he sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.
CHRIS STEWART: Good morning.
SCIUTTO: As you know, you sit on the Intelligence Committee, the Director of National Intelligence, a position created after 9/11, the senior most intelligence official in the country. If you look at the resumés of prior DNI’s, James Clapper, he had served as director of two intelligence agencies, the DIA, the MGA, been in intelligence for 50 years. The DNI will oversee the heads of all the other intelligence agencies. Gina Haspel, she’s been in the CIA for decades. The head of the NSA, Paul Nakasone, he was with DOD he commanded Cyber Command, he commanded the U.S. Second Army. You compare those resumés to Congressman Ratcliffe, he's been on the Intelligence Committee for six months. Is that the experience necessary for this role?
CHRIS STEWART: I think it is. You have to remember he has a very different role in the DNI. He's not a technician. It's like the CEO of Home Depot isn't a plumber or an electrician. He's a business leader. And the DNI is essentially someone who works with Congress, works with the president. It's important that he has the president's trust. And he coordinates with all of these agencies. So it is a very difficult. And I think Dan Coats, who did a remarkable job, and I would like to take a moment to thank him for his service. I met with him for an hour last Friday and the conversation we had reinforced what a great job he did. And he had a similar background to Mr. Ratcliffe.
SCIUTTO: But, to be fair, he was a sitting senator for a number of years. Ratcliffe only a couple of years. Let's ask about the politics here. Because as you know, you saw during the Mueller hearings Ratcliffe, Congressman Ratcliffe delivered a very critical speech, you might say, of Bob Mueller. There wasn't really so much a question at the end. It's CNN's reporting that the president was impressed with that performance last Wednesday and that put him over the top for this role. Again, you say it's an overseeing role, but listen, they're senior to the directors of 17 intelligence agencies with a great deal of experience. He needs the respect and the credibility. Are you concerned that politics made the difference here as opposed to experience? This is not supposed to be a political position.
STEWART: Yeah no, I understand that and I promise you this, I know John, he won't make it a political. His role in congress is different than it will be at DNI and people adapt to different roles, my friend Mike Pompeo, for example, who sat with me again on the Intelligence Committee, went to the CIA, now Secretary of State, in each of those three positions he's had a different role and he's intelligent enough and adaptable enough that he understands those role and begins to fill those role. I think John is the same way, his role and responsibility as member of Congress, member of the intelligence committee is very different than it will be at DNI, but he's very, very bright, again he has the president's trust. He understands how Congress works and he understands the overall picture of how these 17 agencies work. And I'm very confident he'll be able to provide the leadership. And one other thing if I could, Jim, just very quickly, I don't believe at all that it was his performance on Wednesday that made the difference. I think this is a conversation that's been going on for quite a while and I think John has impressed the president for a number of months.
SCIUTTO: It's CNN's reporting. We can disagree on how the president made this decision. I do want to get to the role of the DNI and the other intelligence official, because you deal with classified intelligence in your role on the committee, you and I have spoken about it, I know how seriously you take that role as part of the function of keeping this country safe. You know that in these positions, these officials have to have the confidence and the ability and courage to sometimes tell the Commander-in-Chief things he doesn't want to hear. And there's a great deal of reporting from inside this White House, Mick Mulvaney we know told Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, when she was at DHS not to bring up the Russian interference in the election because the president didn't like to talk about that subject. Is that something you're concerned about, that this president doesn't assign these to these roles who are willing to say, “Listen Mr. President, I know you don't want to hear this, but this is a big deal?” And do you believe that Ratcliffe is the guy who can do that?
STEWART: Well, once again, I believe that he will. Look, his loyalty -- there's no question his loyalty is to the United States of America and the American people and protecting and defending these people. And he's not going to ever, ever turn that aside for any political considerations. And if you know John Ratcliffe, you know that that is true. And then the second thing is he does have a courage. And frankly, all of these individuals do. Mick Mulvaney is a good example. He was a member of Congress, a partisan member of Congress but he has served the president well in several roles. Mike Pompeo has done the same thing. There's a number of people that while they're in Congress they may take on a little bit more of a partisan tone and a partisan voice, but they adapt to that, to their new responsibilities. At the end of the day it's about leadership. It's about serving the American people. It's about protecting the freedoms of the Americans. And I'm confident John is going to serve that very, very well.
SCIUTTO: You're right, that's the right standard. We'll see where the confirmation hearing goes. Congressman Chris Stewart, always have to have you on the program.
STEWART: Thank you, sir.