Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Donald Trump’s choice to serve as the director of National Intelligence, made a specific boast on his website, telling the public he “put terrorists in prison.” That, in and of itself, wouldn’t necessarily qualify the far-right Texan to oversee the entire U.S. intelligence community, but it would certainly be a relevant detail when evaluating his record.
If it were true, that is. All of the available evidence makes clear that the Republican never “put terrorists in prison.” He worked on a terrorism-funding case a few years ago, but to say Ratcliffe was involved in securing convictions is to wildly exaggerate his role.
It’s tempting to simply stop here. An inexperienced and unqualified congressman misrepresented his counter-terrorism record, which seems like the sort of thing that should be a deal-breaker for a nominee to serve as the nation’s top intelligence official. Those who lie about prosecuting terrorists obviously shouldn’t serve as DNI.
But we can keep going. As the New York Times reports today, “there are other examples” in which Ratcliffe appears to have “overstated” elements of his background.
He has emphasized that his previous responsibilities as an assistant prosecutor in that office included overseeing terrorism investigations. But examples of significant national-security cases – as opposed to more common crimes like fraud and drugs – arising in eastern Texas during that period are not readily apparent in the public record; he did prosecute a psychologically troubled Iraq War veteran who pleaded guilty to possessing a pipe bomb.
Malcolm Bales, who worked as a prosecutor in the office from 1989 until his retirement in 2016, culminating in more than seven years as the United States attorney, praised Mr. Ratcliffe as “a bright guy and a quick study” but acknowledged that he could not recall a single terrorism prosecution in the Eastern District of Texas during Mr. Ratcliffe’s time there.
“There were none,” Mr. Bales said, adding, “They are not common in our district.”
Wait, there’s more.
On the same official congressional website in which Ratcliffe falsely claimed he “put terrorists in prison,” he also boasted about having “arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day.”
That’s not quite what happened. In 2008, he helped bring charges against 280 undocumented immigrants working for a poultry producer, but Ratcliffe didn’t arrest any of them.
In fact, the Texas Republican has never arrested anyone, since it was never his job. When Ratcliffe said otherwise, he was exaggerating in ways that obviously seemed intended to deceive.
I’m not even sure why this is still open to conversation. The law that created the DNI position literally says the person holding the job must have “extensive experience” in national security. Ratcliffe does not.
What he has instead is a record of being a far-right partisan who made claims about his national-security background that now appear to have been false. The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee specifically told the president not to nominate this guy.
So what happens now?
As a rule, Trump assumes that his nominees for every position should be rubber-stamped by the Senate, where his party enjoys a 53-seat majority, and it’s possible that GOP senators will go along once more with the White House’s wishes, indifferent to the consequences.
That said, the New York Times’ report added today, “Republicans in the Senate greeted the selection of Mr. Ratcliffe coolly, and some have privately expressed reservations about his thin resume.”
Watch this space.