Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has been among the most outspoken members of the Trump administration in the days after the president’s summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Not only did Coats release a statement affirming support for the intelligence community and their findings as it relates to Russian hacking, he also appeared on a stage with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in Aspen, where he responded to the news that Trump was inviting Putin to the White House with a mocking tone that cannot have landed well in the West Wing.
After Mitchell broke the news to Coats that Trump was planning to bring Putin to Washington in the fall, Coats laughed and cupped his ear. “Say that again,” he said. “Ooookay, that’s going to be special.”
His reaction got laughs from the audience and Mitchell; if he’d rolled his eyes and called President Trump an imbecile, he couldn’t have made his feelings any clearer.
Also in the interview with Mitchell, Coats said that he had no idea what Trump and Putin talked about in their private summit and reaffirmed his belief that Russia was a clear and present threat to American elections.
“Basically, they are the ones that are trying to undermine our basic values and divide with our allies,” Coats said. “They are the ones who are trying to wreak havoc over our election process.”
He told Mitchell that if he’d had his way, Trump would not have met alone with Putin. However, he acknowledged that it wasn’t his decision to make. “That’s not my role,” he said. “That’s not my job. It is what it is.”
In the past, President Trump – for obvious reasons – has not taken kindly to administration officials who go out in public and take an adversarial approach to his decisions. Previous such officials, such as Steve Bannon and Rex Tillerson, have found themselves on the outs rather quickly after choosing to air the dirty laundry. Perhaps Coats realized that he’d placed his job in jeopardy, because he released a statement this week apologizing for the appearance of dissent.
“Some press coverage has mischaracterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview,” Coats said. “My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president. I and the entire intel community are committed to providing the best possible intelligence to inform and support President Trump’s ongoing efforts to prevent Russian meddling in our upcoming elections, to build strong relationships internationally in order to maintain peace, denuclearize dangerous regimes and protect our nation and our allies.”
We’ll see if that partial walk-back will be enough to save Coats his job.