WASHINGTON (AP) -
President-elect Donald Trump has selected former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats to
lead the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a role that would
thrust him into the center of the intelligence community that Trump has
publicly challenged, a person with knowledge of the decision said Thursday.
Coats served as a
member of the Senate Intelligence Committee before retiring from Congress
last year. If confirmed by the Senate, he would oversee the umbrella office
created after 9/11 to improve coordination of U.S. spy and law enforcement
The person with
knowledge of Trump’s decision, as well as others who spoke to The Associated
Press about intelligence matters involving Trump, were not authorized to
discuss the matters publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Since winning the
election, Trump has repeatedly challenged intelligence officials’
assessments that Russia interfered with the election on his behalf, setting
up an unusually public battle with the spy agencies. On Friday, senior
intelligence officials will try to justify their claims when they brief
Trump on the findings of a full report into the Russian hacking of
Democratic groups. The report was ordered by President Barack Obama, who was
informed of the conclusions Thursday.
On the eve of his
briefing, Trump continued to challenge the intelligence community’s
assertion that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National
Committee. He questioned how officials could be “so sure” about the hacking
if they had not examined DNC servers.
“What is going on?”
he wrote on Twitter.
A senior law
enforcement official said in a statement released by the FBI that the bureau
repeatedly stressed to DNC officials the importance of obtaining direct
access to the servers “only to be rebuffed until well after the initial
compromise had been mitigated.” The official said the FBI had to rely on a
“third party” for information, but did get access to the material it needed.
backdrop, Trump’s transition team has been considering ways to restructure
intelligence agencies - part of an effort to streamline operations and
improve efficiency, not as retribution. Transition officials have been
looking at changes at both ODNI and the CIA, according to a person familiar
with the discussions. The person said they reflect the views of intelligence
officials who have told Trump’s team that there is room for streamlining
within the multi-agency intelligence community.
The Wall Street
Journal first reported Wednesday night that Trump was considering the
changes. Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer said the report was “100
percent false” and said transition activities were “for
The scope of the
changes discussed by some in Trump’s transition team was unclear. But the
prospect of a sweeping overhaul still created blowback, contributing to
former CIA Director James Woolsey’s decision to step aside as a senior
adviser to the president-elect.
A person with
direct knowledge of Woolsey’s decision said the former CIA chief had not
been significantly involved in the Trump team’s discussions on intelligence
matters and became uncomfortable being labeled as an adviser. In an
interview on CNN, Woolsey said he did not want to “fly under false colors.”
In other recent
television appearances, Woolsey - who was CIA director under President Bill
Clinton - said he believed Russia was involved in the election-related
hackings, though he also said others may have been as well.
The CIA declined to
comment on potential changes to the intelligence community. Outgoing
National Intelligence Director James Clapper told a Senate panel Thursday
that his office has not been engaged in such discussions with the Trump
transition team. He noted that lawmakers created his office.
“Congress, I think,
gets a vote here,” said Clapper, who was testifying on Russia’s election
is likely to soothe those who fear Trump will significantly overhaul the
intelligence community. The 73-year-old is a Capitol Hill veteran who served
eight years in the House before moving to the Senate in 1989 to take Dan
Quayle’s place when he became vice president. He stayed in the Senate until
1998, then left to become a lobbyist.
After a stint as
ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush, Coats joined the
high-powered Washington firm of King & Spalding. He helped lead the
company’s government affairs division and lobbied for pharmaceutical,
defense and energy companies.
Coats, who earned
$600,000 in his final 13 months at King & Spalding, downplayed his lobbying
work when he returned to Indiana for a successful Senate comeback bid in
2010. He served one term and did not seek re-election last year.
Coats was a harsh
critic of Russia and pushed the Obama administration to harshly punish
Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. When the White House levied
sanctions, the Kremlin responded by banning several lawmakers, including
Coats, from traveling to Russia.
Trump has called
for improving the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and has also
spoken favorably about Russian President Vladimir Putin. His refusal thus
far to accept the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was
meddling in the 2016 election has sparked concern among lawmakers in both
parties. Intelligence agencies have concluded that there is no question that
Russia was behind hacking of political computer systems - something they say
could only have occurred with the approval of top Kremlin officials.