/Trump met with Nunes to talk intel chief replacements

Trump met with Nunes to talk intel chief replacements

Devin Nunes

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, is closely aligned with President Donald Trump on intelligence issues. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

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The president’s get-together with the top House Intelligence Republican has fueled more chatter that Dan Coats may be on his way out.

President Donald Trump recently spoke to top House Intelligence Republican Devin Nunes about replacements for the country’s intelligence chief — the latest sign that Dan Coats’ tenure may be short-lived.

Nunes, who grabbed national attention with his controversial allegations of Obama administration surveillance abuses, met with Trump and other senior White House officials last week to discuss who could take over for Coats at the Office of Director of National Intelligence, according to three people familiar with the get-together.

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Coats has run ODNI since early in the Trump administration, but his job security is the subject of constant speculation, especially after he gave public testimony on North Korea, Iran and Syria that diverged from Trump’s prior comments on the issues. The ODNI chief oversees the government’s intelligence agencies, coordinates the country’s global information-gathering operation and frequently briefs the president on threats each morning.

The meeting between Trump and Nunes has only fueled more chatter about Coats’ departure. The pace of Trump’s discussions with allies about potential replacements has ramped up in recent weeks, the people said.

Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst who served as national security adviser John Bolton’s chief of staff, has been discussed as a possible ODNI replacement. Fleitz left his White House post in October 2018 to serve as president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy, a far-right think tank that has been sharply critical of “radical Islam.”

Some within the intelligence community have also promoted the ODNI’s current No. 2, Sue Gordon, as be a logical replacement for Coats. Gordon is a career intelligence official who is generally well-liked within the organization.

The White House and Nunes did not comment for this report. ODNI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump and Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, are closely aligned on intelligence issues. Both have pushed accusations that career officials — particularly under the Obama administration — have been misusing their power to target political enemies and manipulating intelligence findings for political purposes.

Because of these similar views, some on Capitol Hill and in the intelligence community think Nunes himself could be in the mix for an intelligence post, even if it’s not at ODNI.

“The president would certainly consider Devin Nunes for the director’s position and I eventually see him serving in some capacity in this administration,” said one member of Congress who speaks to Trump frequently. He noted, however, that he sees “all of Devin’s efforts being directed towards a reelection effort in Congress.”

Such speculation has provoked some anxiety at the top of ODNI, according to one person with direct knowledge.

Nunes, who served on Trump’s presidential transition team, made national headlines within the intelligence community in early 2017 when serving as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Nunes made a much-discussed “midnight run” to the White House in March 2017 to obtain what he described as classified information. He later said that information bolstered accusations that the Obama administration had improperly “unmasked” the names of Trump associates whose conversations were vacuumed up by intelligence agencies monitoring foreign agents’ communications in 2016. Normally, the names of U.S. citizens who show up in intelligence reports are kept secret unless there is an overwhelming national security need to expose them.

The New York Times and The Washington Post later reported that three White House officials had helped Nunes gain access to the documents, prompting criticisms that Trump’s aides were feeding Nunes information in the hopes of legitimizing the president’s evidence-free claims that the Obama administration had wiretapped his campaign. Nunes countered that the documents were shown to him by a whistleblower.

Nunes’ public statements about the material later prompted a circumscribed ethics investigation into whether he had improperly disclosed classified information to the press. Nunes was eventually cleared in the probe.

After Nunes’ unmasking inquiry fizzled, he launched a broader probe into alleged surveillance abuses against Trump by the Obama-era FBI and Justice Department.

As head of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes crafted a classified memo detailing these apparent abuses. The memo prompted a rare rebuttal and warning from DOJ.

First, the agency noted that Nunes had not actually seen the relevant underlying intelligence and therefore could not judge whether the department had acted inappropriately. Second, the agency warned that warned releasing the memo could carry significant national-security risks.

But Trump overrode those concerns, and ordered the memo’s declassification at Nunes’ urging.

Trump has since described Nunes as “a true American Patriot the likes of which we rarely see in our modern day world” and “a man of tremendous courage and grit,” saying he “may someday be recognized as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure!”

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