U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra R-Mich., March 8, 2016 file photo
Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

Needing an intel director, Trump praises controversial former rep

Updated

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is on his way out. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon was shown the door. Donald Trump’s recent choice of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to serve as DNI ended in a humiliating fiasco.

So, who’s next? Bloomberg News noted yesterday that Pete Hoekstra, who used to serve as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and who’s currently serving as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, is in the mix.

Today, the president mentioned him by name.

Pete Hoekstra, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands and a former congressman from Michigan, is getting buzz about possibly becoming President Donald Trump’s top intelligence adviser.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, Trump was asked by reporters about the possibility of Hoekstra being nominated to be the official director of national intelligence and the president has positive words for him.

“I like Hoekstra a lot,” Trump said.

That being the case, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

If the Michigan Republican’s name sounds at all familiar, it may be because Hoekstra became the butt of jokes in late 2017 after making some very strange claims about the Netherlands – and then getting caught lying about it to a Dutch news outlet.

He might also be known for having run a failed gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and then a failed U.S. Senate campaign two years later.

But what I consider the most important part of Hoekstra’s background was his nine-term tenure on Capitol Hill.

At face value, it hardly seems outrageous to think a former House Intelligence Committee chairman could help oversee the U.S. intelligence community. The trouble in this case is how Hoekstra performed in his congressional role.

In June 2006, for example, Hoekstra was so determined to help the Bush/Cheney administration’s position on the war in Iraq that he and then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) held a press conference to declare, “We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

We had not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But perhaps most striking is Hoekstra’s record of handling sensitive information in an unfortunate way. As regular readers may recall, in one especially memorable incident, the Michigan Republican confirmed to the Washington Post, on the record, that Nidal Malik Hasan had exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki. It was a problematic revelation – that federal officials had kept secret for a reason.

The Atlantic had a related report in 2012, noting senior U.S. intelligence officials who said there were “concerns” about Hoekstra’s loose lips.

Those concerns were well grounded. In August 2007, Hoekstra wrote an op-ed condemning leaks, but the op-ed itself was accused of including a leak with classified information about U.S. intelligence budgets. In November 2006, Hoekstra pushed the Bush administration to publish online a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The idea was to let far-right bloggers “prove” that Saddam had WMD, but Hoekstra’s plan led to the accidental release of secret nuclear research.

And in 2009, iHoekstra was supposed to keep secret his itinerary in Iraq, but he instead broadcasted his whereabouts on Twitter.

If Trump “likes Hoekstra a lot,” these details may not matter. In fact, if recent history is any guide, this blog post probably offers more vetting than the White House is prepared to do.

But given the Michigan Republican’s history, if the president nominates him, the confirmation hearings may be unpleasant.