NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Coats served honorably, spoke truth to power

One year ago, we wrote here saying former Fort Wayne resident Dan Coats was between a rock and a hard place as President Trump’s national security director. With Coats under fire, we expressed our desire that he keep his job.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” Coats said after last year’s Helsinki summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “And we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

Coats’ perspective was counter to Trump’s, but it was the kind of intelligence the administration should want from its national security director.

On Sunday, the president announced Coats would leave his office on Aug. 15. Trump plans to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe to replace him.

Coats, 76, has been the rare Cabinet member willing to express disagreement with Trump when warranted. In a congressional hearing in January, according to a Bloomberg News story Sunday, “Coats countered Trump’s assertion that Islamic State was defeated, testifying that ‘ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.’ Defying the optimism exuded by Trump on North Korea, Coats said the government of Kim Jong Un is ‘unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.'”

Amid reports in February that Coats was at risk of losing his job, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted that Coats “speaks truth to power and gives policy makers the best intelligence possible.”

John Krull, director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of the news website TheStatehouseFile.com, wrote that he interviewed former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who died in April, when Coats was appointed as national security director in 2017. Lugar told Krull that Coats believed his primary duty was to the nation, not to the individual occupying the White House.

Coats, a Michigan native and Wheaton College graduate, came to Fort Wayne to work after graduating from the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis in 1971. He went on to become 4th District congressman (1981-1989), Indiana senator (1989-1999), U.S. ambassador to Germany (2001-2005), senator again (2011-2017), and chair of the Joint Economic Committee (2015-2017).

Bloomberg News reported that Coats’ deputy, Sue Gordon, praised him as a non-political intelligence chief in a July podcast with former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morrell.

“He has played intelligence straight down the middle,” Gordon said. “The intelligence community is strong in part because of the way Dan has conducted his job. I don’t know that any DNI could have done in this time what Dan Coats has done and I’m proud to be a member of his team.”

Another former Republican 4th District congressman, Mark Souder, told News-Sentinel.com, “Vice-President (Mike) Pence felt that Coats’ personal style, which has always been a quiet effectiveness and grounded in personal relationships, would stabilize the information flow of the vital intelligence information to the White House.”

Souder said when Coats accepted the appointment as national intelligence director, “given the president’s previous unlicensed statements critical of the agencies that he would be coordinating, Dan knew that the job would be challenging. The political environment was obviously not the most comfortable,” Souder said, “but Dan Coats again departs public service having served our nation humbly and defended the principles he believed in.”

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