Updated July 28, 11:12 PM; VOA's National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.
U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his national intelligence chief, Dan Coats, is resigning after two years on the job and frequent policy clashes with the White House.
Coats tendered his resignation in a letter to Trump dated Sunday.
Trump tweeted Sunday that Coats will step down August 15. He thanked Coats for "his great service to our country." He said he will nominate Texas Republican Congressman and Trump loyalist John Ratcliffe as his replacement.
Trump described Ratcliffe as a "highly respected" former U.S. attorney who will "lead and inspire greatness for the country he loves."
Ratcliffe criticized last week's testimony of special counsel Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee.
He said he agreed with Mueller’s conclusions that Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election were “sweeping and systematic.”
But he excoriated Mueller for including the asterisk in his report that explicitly said Trump was not exonerated.
“Can you give me an example other than Donald Trump where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person was not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined?” Ratcliffe asked Mueller.
The former special counsel responded, “I cannot, but this is a unique situation.”
Ratcliffe shot back: “You can’t find it, because – I’ll tell you why – it doesn’t exist.”
Trump was often critical of U.S. military and civilian intelligence agencies, especially when they concluded that there was no question about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Coats has been the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) since March 2017. He frequently disagreed with Trump on a number of highly publicized intelligence matters, including U.S. policy toward Russia, North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and whether Iran violated the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump later abandoned.
In July 2018, in his most public rift with Coats and the intelligence community, Trump stood beside Russian President Vladimir Putin and publicly said he doubted U.S. spies' assessment that Russia had tried to interfere in the election, declaring that Putin had vigorously denied it.
Coats afterward issued a statement reiterating the conclusion that Moscow had indeed worked to sway the election results. Shortly afterward, while onstage at a conference, Coats was visibly surprised by an announcement that Trump was planning on inviting Putin to Washington.
"That's going to be special," Coats said, later apologizing and saying he had not meant to be disrespectful.
In December 2018, Coats drew up a report on the November 2018 midterms elections which put Russia in line for possible sanctions for "influence activities and messaging campaigns targeted at the United States".
But, it's not clear whether sanctions were ever applied. A subsequent report from the U.S. Justice Department found "no evidence to date that any identified activities of a foreign government or foreign agent had a material impact".
Less than two weeks ago, Coats announced the creation of an office to oversee election threats. The election threats executive (ETE) would serve as the DNI's main adviser "on threats to election security" and will "coordinate and integrate all election security activities, initiatives, and programs" across the intelligence community and other government agencies, according to a statement released by Coats.
Former DNI James Clapper, who served under President Barack Obama and is a frequent critic of President Trump, said Coats "served with distinction."
"Obviously, the President wants someone in this position whose first priority is loyalty to him. I worry about people in the Intelligence Community, and the impact of potentially being direct to produce intelligence analyses that comport with the President's worldview, and not their best judgement as to the facts," Clapper said. "Over time, this could be dangerous to the country. 'Truth to power' is a crucial, rock-bed tenet of the US intelligence, and Dan Coates upheld it."
Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey expressed similar sentiment on Twitter.
"Thank you, Dan Coats, for serving our nation so well and for continuing the proud tradition of Directors of National Intelligence loyal only to the truth. Hopefully you won't be the last," he wrote.
Thank you, Dan Coats, for serving our nation so well and for continuing the proud tradition of Directors of National Intelligence loyal only to the truth. Hopefully you won’t be the last. pic.twitter.com/hUzJ0KElaj
— James Comey (@Comey) July 29, 2019