President Donald Trump’s pick for national intelligence director, Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, withdrew from consideration Friday after just five days as he faced growing questions about his experience and qualifications.
The move underscored the uncertainty over his confirmation prospects. Democrats openly dismissed the Republican congressman as an unqualified partisan and Republicans offered only lukewarm and tentative expressions of support.
The announcement will leave the intelligence community without a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader at a time when the U.S. government is grappling with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the prospect of war with Iran and the anticipated efforts of Russia or other foreign governments to interfere in the American political system.
In a tweet Friday, Trump said Ratcliffe had decided to stay in Congress so as to avoid “months of slander and libel.”
Trump didn’t cite specific media reports, though multiple stories in the last week have questioned Ratcliffe’s qualifications and suggested that he had misrepresented his experience as a federal prosecutor in Texas.
Ratcliffe is a frequent Trump defender who fiercely questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week.
Even as Mueller laid bare concerns that Russia was working to interfere with U.S. elections again, Ratcliffe remained focused on the possibility that U.S. intelligence agencies had overly relied on unverified opposition research in investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
In his own statement, Ratcliffe said he remained convinced that he could have done the job “with the objectivity, fairness and integrity that our intelligence agencies need and deserve.”
“However,” he added, “I do not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue.”
Ratcliffe would have replaced Dan Coats, who repeatedly clashed with Trump and announced his resignation a week ago. Coats is departing the office Aug. 15.
The White House in recent days fielded a number of calls from Republicans wary of Ratcliffe’s confirmation chances and uncomfortable with his qualifications, according to two administration officials not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Several news stories in recent days called into question aspects of Ratcliffe’s resume and career, alarming some in the GOP, while a few key Republican senators already greeted his nomination with a lukewarm response.
Taking their cue from the president’s instinct to push back against the media and fight for problematic nominees, White House officials initially planned to rally around the choice. But Ratcliffe himself expressed concern to the West Wing about the scrutiny, the administration officials said.
They said that though the president long admired Ratcliffe’s interviews in which he defended the White House, as well as his performance in the Mueller hearings, Trump grew convinced that the nomination battle would become a distraction — and was quick, as he often is, to blame the media for treating his administration unfairly.
The scuttled nomination deepened questions about the White House’s seemingly haphazard vetting process, but Trump brushed aside those concerns, even crediting the media for its role in the process.
“You vet for me. I like when you vet. … I think the White House has a great vetting process. You vet for me,” Trump said. “When I give a name, I give it out to the press and you vet for me. A lot of times you do a very good job. Not always.”