Senators press Trump pick for top U.S. spy on China in era of coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators pressed Donald Trump’s nominee to steer U.S. intelligence on Tuesday on whether or not he would act independently of the president on hot-button points just like the origins of the coronavirus in China, as lawmakers held the primary socially-distanced listening to in the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence committee’s affirmation listening to needed to understand how Representative John Ratcliffe would handle strain from Trump, a president who has usually been at odds with the intelligence neighborhood.

The three-term House member, who fervently supported Trump throughout impeachment repeatedly pledged to behave independently.

“The intelligence I deliver will not be subject to outside influence,” he mentioned.

Many questions for the Republican nominee to go 17 U.S. intelligence businesses centered on coronavirus and China, which Trump has partly blamed for the devastating influence on the United States.

The cavernous listening to room was eerily empty, because the Senate noticed strict protocols to guard towards the unfold of coronavirus. Ratcliffe mentioned that, if confirmed, he would focus on the virus’s influence, questions on its origins in China and U.S. competitors with Beijing.

“If confirmed, the intelligence community will be laser focused on getting all the answers that we can regarding how this happened,” Ratcliffe mentioned.

Trump’s administration and the federal government in Beijing have been engaged in a bitter warfare of phrases over how the coronavirus unfold, because the sickness has killed greater than 60,000 Americans and cratered the nation’s financial system, complicating Trump’s run for re-election in November.

Ratcliffe mentioned he views China as the best risk to the United States, on many fronts. “I won’t say all roads lead to China, but a lot of them do,” he mentioned.

Trump nominated Ratcliffe, a member of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee since January 2019, to be director of nationwide intelligence final summer season. The nomination was dropped amid questions on his lack of expertise and partisan status however the Republican president nominated him once more this yr.

Now, just a few Republican committee members, together with committee chair Richard Burr, promised they might again Ratcliffe, whereas stressing the necessity for the director to be politically unbiased.

U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) testifies earlier than a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination listening to on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 5, 2020. Gabriella Demczuk/Pool by way of REUTERS


Democrats appeared unconvinced.

The committee’s top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner, mentioned he was involved about partisanship from Ratcliffe, a strongly outspoken supporter of Trump throughout impeachment hearings final yr, particularly relating to intelligence oversight and whistleblowers.

“I still have some of the same doubts now as I had back in August,” Warner mentioned.

There has been no Senate-confirmed Director of National Intelligence since August, when former Republican Senator Dan Coats retired. The present performing DNI, Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, is seen as a fierce Trump partisan.

Trump and aides have sharply criticized intelligence officers, accusing them of working for a “Deep State” searching for to undermine his presidency.

Ratcliffe repeatedly praised them.

“I don’t think that the men and women of the intelligence community are running amok,” he mentioned.

Burr, who privately criticized Ratcliffe when his identify was first floated final yr, promised the Republican-majority panel would shortly suggest Ratcliffe to the complete Senate. Trump’s fellow Republicans maintain a slim 53 to 47-vote in the chamber, and he wants 51 votes for affirmation, so approval is probably going.

Trump infuriated Democrats and attracted criticism from some Republicans by firing Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who despatched Congress a whistleblower criticism alleging that Trump sought to steer Ukraine’s president to gather doubtlessly damaging info on former Vice President Joe Biden, a number one Trump political rival.

That report grew to become central to Trump’s impeachment.

Much in regards to the listening to was uncommon, or unprecedented. Ratcliffe’s household didn’t attend.

Some workers and senators wore masks into the room, however eliminated them to talk. Ratcliffe didn’t put on a masks. Members of the press have been restricted to a small quantity, who offered pool reviews.

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Burr carefully questioned Ratcliffe about his view of Russian interference in U.S. elections. The nominee mentioned he agreed that Russia sought to sow discord in the United States and intervene in the 2016 and 2018 campaigns.

Trump has rejected intelligence neighborhood conclusions that Moscow sought to spice up his candidacy.

“I will deliver the unvarnished truth, it won’t be shaded for anyone,” Ratcliffe mentioned beneath questioning from Senator Susan Collins, one of the Senate’s most average Republicans.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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