Former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats is the front-runner to become Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence, according to two people familiar with the decision, a move that would put him in the position of defending the agencies whose conclusions on Russian hacking have been openly questioned by the president-elect.
According to the people, who requested anonymity because a final decision hasn’t been made, Trump is also considering Fran Townsend, President George W. Bush’s former homeland security adviser; Admiral Mike Rogers, the current director of the National Security Agency; and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton.
Having served as a senator, ambassador and lobbyist, the 73-year-old Coats is a known quantity in Washington. As the DNI, he would oversee coordination of 17 intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, tasked with tracking everything from terrorist operations to foreign military maneuvers.
If confirmed by the Senate, Coats will join a team expected to include retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Republican Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA chief and former General James Mattis at the Pentagon. A confirmation hearing would likely include heavy questioning from both Republicans and Democrats about how Coats views an Oct. 7 assessment by the intelligence community about Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election — a conclusion repeatedly questioned by Trump and rejected by Moscow.
As a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations and Intelligence Committees, Coats in 2014 laid out what he termed a more effective strategy to combat Islamic State terrorists, calling for having law enforcement working more collaboratively with domestic Muslim communities; pushing Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf allies to cut off financial support for groups that support terrorism; and expanding bombing of Islamic State camps in Syria.
He also echoed comments similar to Trump’s about the need for “extreme vetting” of people coming to the U.S. Coats said the U.S. needs to review its Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of about three dozen nations to enter the U.S. for as many as 90 days without getting visas in advance, saying it might have to be eliminated for national security reasons. “Similar reviews of our refugee and asylum policies are necessary,” he added in a statement on his website.
In March 2015, Coats announced his retirement from the Senate, saying he wouldn’t seek re-election. He served as a congressman and then senator from 1981 to 1999, stepping down because of a term-limits pledge. But he returned to the Senate in 2011 and became a member of the Senate Finance, Select Intelligence and Joint Economic committees. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and in the private sector, working as a lobbyist for for companies such as General Electric Co. and Google.