(CBDSFW.COM/CNN) — Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe was confirmed Thursday as President Donald Trump’s top intelligence official on a party-line Senate vote, putting the Republican into the center of a political firestorm over the FBI’s prosecution of Michael Flynn and its Russia investigation.
The Senate voted 49-44 to confirm Ratcliffe as the Trump’s second permanent director of national intelligence, with all Democrats opposed. The vote along straight party lines was a first for a position created after the September 2001 terrorist attacks — before Thursday, there were never more than a dozen senators who voted against a nominee for director of national intelligence.
Ratcliffe has served as the congressman for Texas’ 4th congressional district, which includes counties just northeast of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, since 2015.
Trump initially picked Ratcliffe last year to be his spy chief following Ratcliffe’s aggressive questioning of former special counsel Robert Mueller, and Trump’s decision to re-nominate Ratcliffe this year came after he was a key defender of the President during the House’s impeachment proceedings.
Now Ratcliffe will transition from being one of the President’s key defenders to leading an intelligence community that has been under constant fire from Trump, who has pushed unsubstantiated claims about a “deep state” of career officials trying to undermine his presidency.
In his new post, Ratcliffe will play an essential role in deciding what documents are released publicly in the middle of an election amid expanding congressional investigations that are targeting Obama administration officials and Trump’s 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Ratcliffe will also be leading the intelligence community’s response to Russian election meddling in the 2020 election. Ratcliffe has been unequivocal that he believes Russia has interfered in US elections and will continue to do so — but he has not sided with one of the intelligence community’s key findings: that Russia was trying to help Trump in 2016. And Ratcliffe’s criticisms of the Ukraine whistleblower during Trump’s impeachment have prompted questions from Democrats about a chilling effect on watchdogs in the intelligence community.
Ratcliffe will also now be a key decision-maker on reorganizing of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence after outgoing acting director Richard Grenell began an overhaul during his short tenure.
When Trump nominated Ratcliffe in 2019, he said he had done so because the intelligence community had “run amok.” Ratcliffe withdrew last year amid questions about exaggerations to his resume and his partisan record, but Trump’s views on the intelligence community have only hardened since Trump picked Ratcliffe a second time in February.
A CNN review of Ratcliffe’s testimony, television interviews and participation in the House’s impeachment proceedings provides clues as to how Ratcliffe will approach the numerous politically sensitive issues he faces at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“I haven’t served in an intelligence agency. I think that bringing a different kind of experience today is really going to be vitally important,” Ratcliffe told Catherine Herridge of CBS News after he was nominated in March.
“You know all of the experience in the world isn’t helpful without judgment, and I think what we’ve seen is that some of our most experienced intelligence officials have gotten it wrong with respect to important issues,” Ratcliffe said.
At his confirmation hearing, Ratcliffe pledged to be an independent voice delivering intelligence assessments to the President, even those Trump doesn’t want to hear. But Democrats say they remain skeptical that Ratcliffe will shed his partisan record on the Russia investigation and election meddling when he joins the Trump administration.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN Wire contributed to this report. The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report. All rights reserved.)