A week ago, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe—a title and name combo that’s right up there at the “jumbo shrimp” level of oxymoron—warned the nation that he had something very special to say. Then he stepped out for a special appearance in which he warned that Iran was interfering in the U.S. election by sending threatening letters to Florida Democrats telling them to switch parties and vote for Trump, or else. Oh, and he also said that Iran was doing this to hurt Donald Trump. And also Russia … something. Okay, bye.
How Iran’s actions in telling people they had to vote for Trump were designed to hurt Trump wasn’t explained. Presumably, Ratcliffe had some explanation for that claim. Or maybe not, since he left the stage and hurried away without taking questions.
Apparently Ratcliffe’s Trump-centric embellishment wasn’t just a puzzle for the reporters in the room: It also sent a shock through FBI Director Chris Wray and senior DHS official Chris Krebs, who flanked Ratcliffe during the announcement. Wray and Krebs had blessed the remarks before they were given to the public, stating that they matched the information they had obtained. The problem was … when Ratcliffe showed his statement to Wray and Krebs, it said nothing about an attempt to harm Donald Trump.
That part, it seems, Ratcliffe simply made up on the spot.
According to Politico, when Ratcliffe said that the series of threatening emails were “designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump” he was on track right up until that final comma. It also seems that the press event was entirely Ratcliffe’s idea. FBI and DHS officials agreed to join him on stage as a symbol to show that the intelligence community as a whole took the threats from both iran and Russia seriously. They also hoped that their presence on stage would show that this was a strictly apolitical event. It was also viewed as a nice “victory lap” for the intelligence community, since cybersecurity experts had been able to identify the source of the threatening emails within hours after the first one was turned over to the FBI.
Then Ratcliffe went off script, made it overtly political, and turned the event into one that supported Trump rather than the nation’s cyberdefense. Which didn’t exactly warm the hearts of the men who joined him on stage.
This wasn’t a one-off for Ratcliffe, a former Republican congressman who grabbed the DNI job entirely through his vocal support of Trump in House hearings. In September, Ratcliffe unilaterally declassified a document that had been identified by bipartisan committees in both the House and Senate Russian that made false claims about Hillary Clinton. And to cement his commitment to partisanship above all, Ratcliffe didn’t send the declassified document to the full Senate, or even the Intelligence Committee. He just sent it to Lindsey Graham.
Ratcliffe has also done his best to indicate that there is some sort of investigation going on into Hunter Biden and bolster the idea that the soggy laptop is legitimate. In fact, Ratcliffe couched his statement in a sort of double negative, saying that there was no evidence that the laptop was created by foreign intelligence … without saying that there was any evidence that it was real.
Now that he has his media call button warmed up, don’t be surprised to see Ratcliffe announcing a special special press conference on … Saturday, or maybe Monday. Donald Trump has expressed his anger at how hard it’s been to get Christopher Wray to stand up on stage to provide the sort of last-minute distraction that then-FBI Director James Comey handed him in 2016.
There’s absolutely no doubt: John Ratcliffe will do it.