… er, “pick somebody appropriate for that job.” It didn’t take Doug Collins long to shoot down a Donald Trump trial balloon that could have resolved an internecine fight over a Senate seat. Yesterday, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he would make a decision soon on a permanent appointment for the director of national intelligence, and that Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) was a leading candidate:
During a flight on Air Force One late Thursday, Trump told reporters that he is considering the Republican congressman after it was revealed that his latest pick for acting director, Richard Grenell, would not fill the position permanently.
Collins, the outgoing ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was one of Trump’s closest allies in the House throughout the impeachment process. He will soon have to leave his leadership positions after announcing that he would be running for U.S. Senate in Georgia against the Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
“Congratulations to you,” Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo greeted Collins earlier this morning, “what an honor to have this distinction!” That turned into an awkward moment when Collins declined the honor:
Collins, in an interview on Fox Business Network, said he was humbled that Trump was considering him for the post of permanent director of national intelligence but that he was focused on his Senate campaign.
“I know the problems of our intelligence community, but this is not a job that is of interest to me. At this time, it’s not one that I would accept,” the Georgia Republican said. “I’m sure the president will pick somebody appropriate for that job.”
Bartiromo seems to be pushing lightly for Collins to reconsider his position. She notes that Kelly Loeffler has the support of the governor (and maybe the president) for the Senate primary, and that the intelligence communities need a good housecleaning. Collins, however, refuses to budge on the issue, saying that he can do more from the Senate — and that Loeffler is too weak to guarantee the seat in November.
Is this spite, or is it a rational choice? Collins might not have been a slam dunk for the position, Politico notes:
The president’s proposal to install Collins as national intelligence director on a permanent basis was also likely to have elicited significant criticism — especially given that it is not the first time Trump has explored choosing a fierce congressional ally for the job.
Trump previously nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to become national intelligence director in July, but Ratcliffe withdrew himself from consideration just five days later in the face of heavy scrutiny.
Ratcliffe previously served as the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, but had minimal experience in the intelligence community beyond his six-month tenure on the House Intelligence Committee. Both Ratcliffe and Collins were vocal defenders of the president amid former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the House impeachment proceedings.
Whatever the motivation, Collins’ demurral leaves Trump and the GOP back at square one in both positions. Collins won’t take another job to avoid a head-on collision in the Republican primary with Loeffler, and Trump doesn’t have a leading candidate for the ODNI job now, either. The latter would likely be better coming out of current or former military command ranks anyway, where a lifetime of service would count for greater credibility even if the candidate is a reliable clean-house sort of appointee. In the Georgia primary, the situation is now all but unavoidable, and all the GOP and NRSC can do now is limit the fallout from it.
Update: Trump still sounds upbeat about his ODNI search:
Four great candidates are under consideration at DNI. Decision within next few weeks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2020
Looks like the White House was prepared for a rebuff.
Update: Or maybe not. Was Trump just riffing?
This may seem obvious now, but several people familiar tell me POTUS never discussed with Collins the potential of nominating him for DNI before telling reporters this on AF1 last night.
Collins was just as surprised as everyone else https://t.co/Wi4xZMslUn
— Alayna Treene (@alaynatreene) February 21, 2020
If true, then Collins got sandbagged. Given that, he was remarkably (and wisely) polite about it.