NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: We hope administration knows value of Coats

Dan Coats is between a rock and a hard place. Will he continue as President Trump’s national security director, will he retire or will he be fired?

We hope he stays where he is. Indiana’s presence in the Trump administration has been strong through Vice President Mike Pence and now Coats, who in January last year became the President-elect’s nominee to succeed James Clapper as director of national intelligence. But Coats’ actual influence is in question.

When President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki a week ago Monday, no one else was in the room except for interpreters. As a result of that and the lack of any briefing to Coats, the head of the U.S. intelligence community said he had no clue what happened in their meeting. According to The Associated Press, Coats said if he had been asked, he would have advised the president against meeting alone with Putin. And when Coats heard that President Trump had invited Putin to meet in Washington this fall, he was apparently among the last to know.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that news in the middle of a televised interview with Coats at the Aspen Security Forum Thursday in Colorado. Coats responded, “Say that again.” And he added with a laugh, “Did I hear you right?” When it was explained that a tweet from administration spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the visit, Coats reportedly said, “OK. That’s going to be special.”

Coats’ reaction went viral, and the White House was said to have been angered by it. “Coats has gone rogue,” one senior White House official told The Washington Post.

Over the weekend, Coats issued a statement saying, “My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president.”

Coats, a Michigan native and Wheaton College graduate came to Fort Wayne after graduating from the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis in 1971.

He was manager of real estate investments for Mutual Security Life Insurance Co. here in 1976 when he was asked to work for Dan Quayle, who had just been elected to Congress. Quayle ran for the Senate four years later, and Coats was elected to his mentor’s U.S. House seat. When Quayle became vice president in 1988, outgoing Republican Gov. Robert D. Orr named Coats as Quayle’s replacement. Coats defeated Democrat Baron Hill in the 1990 race for Quayle’s Senate seat.

We have largely supported Coats throughout his political tenure and believe he compiled a consistent conservative voting record. A straight-talker throughout his career, Coats said after the Helsinki summit: “The role of the intelligence community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the president and policymakers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

That’s the kind of intelligence the administration should want from Coats, and we hope the president recognizes the value of his knowledge and experience and keeps him onboard.