For months, President Trump has been eager to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has been one of the clarion voices warning of Russian election interference and presented “active threats” to American elections to Congress as recently as this week.
Axios is reporting that Trump has been bringing up replacing Coats, often unprompted, for months and has been floating names of possible replacements since at least February. Trump gave a confidant the impression this week that replacing Coats would happen sooner rather than later.
Coats serves as the overseer of the American intelligence apparatus across multiple agencies — a community that has historically had a frosty relationship with the president. Trump has regularly disagreed publicly with the assessment of the intelligence agencies and started his tenure in the Oval Office by attacking that community after it announced evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has even set up the far more loyalist Department of Justice in an adversarial role to the intelligence community.
Trump and Coats have had a few public spats, including a disagreement over whether North Korea would follow through with disarmament plans (Coats said they wouldn’t, and they haven’t), and Coats’ continued attention on Russian election interventionism in the United States which Trump is known to conflate with impugning the validity of his 2016 victory.
But Trump also dislikes the office Coats occupies itself, thinking that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is a bureaucratic waste itself and wishing to cut it altogether. After being told that cutting ODNI is not politically viable, it is reported that Trump has settled on “downsizing” the office, likely alongside replacing Coats as the Director.
Axios reports that one name being floated to replace Coats is Fred Fleitz, short-lived Chief of Staff to the National Security Council and its adviser, John Bolton. In lieu of Senate-confirmed leadership at the Department of Defense, it is speculated that Bolton has been maneuvering America’s war footing against Iran. Fleitz’s appointment may further Bolton’s Iran war agenda.
Fleitz publicly called for Coats to be fired on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business program and has been a critic of Coats’ performance as Director. The White House said it had no personnel announcements to make at this time, and Coats told reporters that he is focused on carrying out his duties.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.