Five of the worst words to hear in Washington these days: “The President has nominated you…”
Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, President Donald Trump’s short-lived nominee for director of national intelligence, is the latest would-be official to get the bad news. Up until he was tapped for the country’s top intelligence job on July 28, Ratcliffe was practically unknown around Washington.
Five days later, after Trump announced on Twitter that he had withdrawn from consideration, Ratcliffe has a new-found national profile. But not in a good way.
Almost immediately, Ratcliffe’s nomination was met by questions over his qualifications for the job, and a noticeably tepid response from Senate Republicans. Then, the Washington Post revealed he had falsely claimed on his congressional website to have “arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day” when working as a federal prosecutor.
Had he not been nominated, Ratcliffe would be just another Trump loyalist in the House from a safe Republican district. Now he’s the guy who fudged his resumé.
Ratcliffe joins a long list of Trump nominees who have withdrawn before making it to a Senate confirmation vote. From cabinet-level secretaries to ambassadors to departmental general counsels, in less than three years under Trump, dozens of people have been tapped for executive branch posts only to pull out of the running for one reason or another.
Trump’s track record of false-start nominations is one of the best examples of the ad-hoc, go-it-alone style that dominates practically every aspect of his presidency. He often picks people based on their performance on television. Vetting is an after-thought, as is seeking the counsel of Republican allies in Congress.
The Ratcliffe episode had all the key ingredients.
By several accounts, Ratcliffe’s performance during the Mueller hearings were what sealed the President’s decision to tap him for the DNI job. A source familiar with the selection told CNN the President’s pick for DNI was not properly vetted prior to the announcement. And it certainly appeared to take GOP senators by surprise.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who would be a crucial vote in a confirmation hearing, said she did not know Ratcliffe “at all” when the President nominated him.
While the result of these withdrawn nominations is often a minor, temporary inconvenience for Trump, it can have major ramifications for the careers and reputations of those he taps. Rather than conferring some degree of prestige, a nomination from Trump frequently has the opposite effect by shining a harsh light on people who aren’t ready for prime time.
Ratcliffe is only the most recent example of someone who may have been better off without Trump’s stamp of approval.
Patrick Shanahan, Trump’s pick to replace Secretary of Defense James Mattis, withdrew in June after personal details emerged involving domestic violence between Shanahan’s son and ex-wife.
In May, Stephen Moore withdrew from consideration for a vacant seat on the Federal Reserve board after CNN’s KFile surfaced articles Moore had written two decades earlier that criticized female athletes who demanded equal pay, and dismissed women for voting for Democrats. The public also learned about Moore’s unpaid tax bill (about $75,000) and unflattering details of his divorce records.
In February, former State Department spokeswoman and Fox News host Heather Nauert withdrew from consideration to be the US ambassador to the UN, saying it was “in the best interest” of her family. Nauert had come under scrutiny over hiring a nanny who was not legally allowed to work in the US.
There was also Ronny Jackson, the well-regarded White House physician who Trump nominated in 2018 to be Veterans Affairs secretary. After allegations arose of misconduct and questionable behavior in the White House medical office, Jackson withdrew.
A basic amount of vetting and due diligence before, not after, someone is nominated could resolve the issue of embarrassing surprises and hasty withdrawals. But that’s not how Trump operates.
And his comments surrounding Ratcliffe’s withdrawal offer a particularly interesting window into how he approaches the task of filling high-level roles in the executive branch.
In announcing the withdrawal on Friday, Trump tweeted that Ratcliffe had been “treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media.” But then a few hours later, as he left the White House, the President told reporters that he actually relies on the media to vet his nominees for him.
“I give a name to the press and they inform me,” Trump said. “We save a lot of money that way.”
This story has been updated