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Senate Approves John Ratcliffe for Top Intelligence Job in Sharply Split Vote


WASHINGTON — A divided Senate voted on Thursday to confirm Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas, a fierce conservative ally of President Trump’s with relatively little intelligence experience, to lead the nation’s spy agencies.

Every Senate Democrat opposed the nomination, making Mr. Ratcliffe the first national intelligence chief installed with no support from the opposition party since the post was created in late 2004. But Democrats agreed to dispense with the normal rules and accelerate Mr. Ratcliffe’s confirmation in an effort to more quickly oust the acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, who has declassified documents to the political benefit of the White House. The final tally in the Senate was 49 to 44.

The partisan outcome reflected the extent to which Mr. Trump has further polarized Washington. Attacking career intelligence analysts and his own appointees, he has tossed aside the notion of unpoliticized intelligence to recast the relatively staid spy agencies as players in one big partisan fight.

The speedy confirmation of Mr. Ratcliffe was a sharp change of fortune from last summer, when Mr. Trump first tapped him to oversee the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies. Mr. Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration within days amid doubts about his qualifications, his partisan political background as a House member and reports that he had inflated his résumé from his time as a federal prosecutor in Texas.

Mr. Ratcliffe’s luck turned after Mr. Trump replaced the previous acting intelligence chief, Joseph Maguire, in February with Mr. Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and a fierce partisan on behalf of the president. As the acting director, Mr. Grenell has embarked on a campaign to declassify sensitive records that would benefit Mr. Trump politically and reorganize the intelligence director’s office, moves that prompted unease among some lawmakers of both parties.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and the acting chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he was “confident” that Mr. Ratcliffe would lead the agencies “with integrity” and stressed the importance of having a permanent director approved by the Senate.

“In a time when the threats to our nation are many and varied, it is critical to have a Senate-confirmed D.N.I. ensuring the wide array of intelligence agencies are sharing information across lines, coordinating capabilities, and are all working in the furtherance of the same strategic aim,” Mr. Rubio said.

Mr. Ratcliffe, who will be the first Senate-confirmed intelligence director in nine months, is set to be sworn in on Tuesday, according to an intelligence official, giving Mr. Grenell a few more days in office.

Questions about Mr. Ratcliffe’s preparedness and suitability for the job are likely to follow him into office, particularly among Democrats and career intelligence officials. When Congress created the position almost two decades ago, it envisioned directors who would be nonpartisan national security experts.

Mr. Ratcliffe, by contrast, has served only a brief stint as an acting U.S. attorney in Texas, in an office that sees relatively few national security cases, and joined the House Intelligence Committee only last year. He made his name in Washington in recent years as one of Mr. Trump’s savviest allies in the House, frequently appearing on Fox News to defend the president during the Russia investigation and sharply criticizing the F.B.I. along the way. Ultimately, Mr. Ratcliffe joined a team of House members that helped mount Mr. Trump’s impeachment defense this year.

Mr. Ratcliffe promised during his confirmation to work in a nonpartisan manner, insisting that he would “deliver the unvarnished truth” to the president and Congress, unshaded by political objectives.

That pledge will quickly be put to the test.

He is already under pressure from the White House to appoint Stephen A. Feinberg, a hedge fund chief, to a top intelligence job. Conservatives also want to see more documents declassified and released that are related to the Russia investigation opened during the Obama administration. And the Justice Department is continuing its look at how the F.B.I. and intelligence agencies investigated accusations of Trump campaign ties to Russia.

Democrats said on Thursday that they were unconvinced that Mr. Ratcliffe could put aside his personal political views or stand up to Mr. Trump.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that Mr. Ratcliffe’s confirmation hearing suggested that he would not “speak truth to power; he would surrender to it.”

Mr. Wyden had pressed Mr. Ratcliffe during the hearing to state his views on Russian election interference, the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the firing by Mr. Trump of the intelligence agencies’ inspector general. On each point, Mr. Ratcliffe declined to give the kind of unequivocal statements that Mr. Wyden sought.

“He has demonstrated that he is so eager to serve power, he will twist that truth,” Mr. Wyden said in a speech before Thursday’s vote. “And he demonstrated this again and again.”

Lawmakers’ unease with Mr. Grenell in large measure drove momentum for confirming Mr. Ratcliffe.

After stepping into the job in February, Mr. Grenell began an aggressive remaking of his office. He announced a 15 percent cut to the National Counterterrorism Center, reorganized the office’s cyberspace oversight, put a new official in charge of intelligence briefings for presidential candidates and elevated the role of a three-star military officer.

Those moves, as well as Mr. Grenell’s promotion of career officials, won cautious praise from some former officials, who have said the national intelligence office had grown too large and needed to focus on new threats.

But others, including members of Congress, have expressed concerns that Mr. Grenell ousted career officials, among them Russ Travers, the former acting chief of the counterterrorism center, and Deirdre Walsh, the former chief operating officer.

Mr. Grenell has defended his actions as part of an effort to be more transparent, saying some material had been overclassified. The information he ordered declassified had been withheld, his supporters said, only because it embarrassed the F.B.I. or intelligence agencies, not because it would endanger secrets if it were public.

Some Republicans have backed that view and indicated that they will apply their own pressure on the new director to continue providing Congress with sensitive documents on related matters. On Thursday, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, urged Mr. Ratcliffe to follow Mr. Grenell’s lead when he took office.

“Acting Director Grenell is a breath of fresh air,” Mr. Grassley said. “Mr. Ratcliffe has some big shoes to fill, that’s for sure.”



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