Whistleblower Allegations Surfaced Just Before DNI Pick John Ratcliffe Withdrew

By Erin.Banco@thedailybeast.com (Erin Banco) asawin.suebsaeng@thedailybeast.com (Asawin Suebsaeng)
Saul Loeb/Getty

An email disclosing Rep. John Ratcliffe’s (R-TX) alleged involvement in a controversial whistleblowing case reached the White House prior to the announcement Friday that he was withdrawing his name from consideration for Director of National Intelligence, according to two sources with knowledge of the correspondence.

The email, originally sent to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, laid out how Ratcliffe promoted a company accused of being instrumental in the reprisal against a whistleblower and their cybersecurity efforts, according to one of those sources. The Government Accountability Project, an organization that protects whistleblowers, is helping represent the unnamed government employee. Details about the case are being closely held in part because of security reasons. 

The organization sent information on its client’s disclosure to the committee Wednesday morning. The email then circulated among Republicans in Washington, including some White House officials, who did not think Ratcliffe was up to the job of DNI, according to two sources with direct knowledge.

White House spokespeople did not provide comment for this story. Ratcliffe did not respond to a request for comment.

Ratcliffe’s third-largest campaign donor in the 2019-2020 cycle, according to Open Secrets, a non-profit that tracks the intersection of money in politics, is a company that forced the shutdown of a critical government cybersecurity office. That’s according to an individual familiar with the whistleblower’s disclosure. Ratcliffe hosted the company in front of the House Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, the source said.

“While I am concerned that there was never a complete review of the facts of this case as it related to Mr. Ratcliffe … I’m thankful the committee took this matter seriously,” said Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst at the Government Accountability Project. “This engagement exemplifies the need for policymakers to continue championing their work with courageous whistleblowers willing to speak truth to power.”

News of the email comes as President Donald Trump considers multiple individuals for the position of DNI. Since Trump announced the nomination of Ratcliffe last week, U.S. media organizations have published multiple reports of holes in the congressman’s biography and his exaggeration of the work he did as a former U.S. Attorney in Texas. Three sources with knowledge of the government’s vetting process said Trump administration officials raised concerns about Ratcliffe’s past over the last week. It’s unclear whether the whistleblower disclosure email impacted Ratcliffe’s nomination, or if the president himself was aware of the email.

Trump Intel Pick John Ratcliffe Started Theory of FBI Anti-Trump ‘Secret Society’

Trump announced Ratcliffe’s decision Friday afternoon.

“Our great Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media. Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people,” Trump said in a tweet. “John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country. I will be announcing my nomination for DNI shortly.”

As of Friday night, Trump had not announced his nomination and his team was still actively considering multiple different individuals for the DNI posting. One of those individuals is U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra, according to two individuals with knowledge of the Trump administration's search. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on Hoekstra’s consideration on Friday.

News of the president considering someone new for the DNI position came Friday morning when The Daily Beast reported the White House had asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for a list of all its employees at the federal government’s top pay scale who have worked there for 90 days or more. The White House asked for people in ODNI who maintained at least the GS-15 level (the pay grade for most top government employees, including supervisors).

The request underscored the president’s attempt to find a suitable replacement for the ODNI’s top posting and raised questions about whether he attempted to oust Sue Gordon, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Under federal law the individual serving in that position is supposed to step up if the DNI departs. Last week DNI Dan Coates announced that he would leave his post August 15. 

The New York Times reported Friday that the president was in the throes of trying to circumvent Gordon and replace her with his own pick. But later Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the president was, in fact, considering Gordon for the job. 

It’s still unclear who the White House is considering for the post. But as of Friday night, one thing was clear: Ratcliffe was out.

“I do not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue. The country we all love deserves that it be treated as an American issue,” Ratcliffe said in a tweet Friday. “I have asked the President to nominate someone other than me for this position.”

-- Betsy Woodruff contributed reporting

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