Washington Wednesday – Former DNI Dan Coats

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Wednesday, January 8th, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up, Washington Wednesday. 

Today our managing editor J.C. Derrick has another interview he did on his recent trip to the nation’s capital. And he’s here to set it up for us. Morning, J.C.!

DERRICK: Hey, Mary! 

REICHARD: OK, today we’re airing excerpts of your interview with Dan Coats. He’s a former Indiana congressman, senator, and U.S. Ambassador to Germany. He was also President Trump’s director of national intelligence for the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency, if I remember correctly. 

DERRICK: That’s right. He’s also an evangelical Christian, so I asked if he would be willing to talk about how his faith played a role in his work as director of national intelligence. And to be perfectly honest with you, I was surprised he said yes! 

REICHARD: I’d guess he doesn’t get to talk about his faith very often with secular reporters. 

DERRICK: Well, yes, but he hasn’t been doing any kind of interviews since stepping down last August. He’s been very quiet. And that’s at least partly because news of his resignation came right in between President Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president and the whistleblower report that came right after it. 

REICHARD: Did you two talk about that at all? 

DERRICK: We did, and he made some news. And it’s that he did not resign in protest, as many have wondered. 

But before we get to that, I should note that the interview actually took place in two parts. So in this first part we’re about to play, you’ll notice Coats is a little bit off mic. This is where we talked about the timeline of his departure. But it’s important to hear this in his own voice, because it hasn’t been reported elsewhere.

REICHARD: OK. Do we need any background?  

DERRICK: Well, just remember that Dan Coats’ last day as director of national intelligence was August 15th. The whistleblower report that touched off the current impeachment saga landed on his successor’s desk the very next day—August 16th. So I asked him if he was glad he got out when he did. 

COATS: Well, yes, although I didn’t know the inspector general’s report was coming, but this was a date that the president had announced earlier would be my last day. 

I felt bad for the new interim director of national intelligence. I hired him to be head of our counterterrorism organization. But here the poor guy ends up now interim director of national intelligence, and then that inspector general’s report came across his desk, and I felt bad that he was put in that position. 

I had no idea that this would happen, but I guess I was spared, and he was the one that had to go before the Congress in a difficult time and deal with this issue.

DERRICK: So July 28th is when the president announced in a tweet that you would be stepping down. Was that the day that you had told him—that you had submitted your resignation?

COATS: Well, I had talked to him earlier about that. But that was the date when he announced, through a tweet that was picked up by The New York Times, I guess, and then passed on to me, that he had chosen the date of August 15th to be my last day in office. That did give me time to wrap up some things and so forth. I was grateful for that. But that’s an agreement we had made earlier in July. 

REICHARD: Very interesting! 

DERRICK: Yeah, several interesting things there. There’s been widespread speculation that Coats resigned because of the Zelensky call—because the call had taken place just three days before President Trump’s tweet. Some have theorized that Coats resigned in protest. 

But Coats says he turned in his resignation before that call ever took place and he didn’t know about the whistleblower report. He also says he found out along with the rest of us in that tweet from the president that August 15th would be his last day. 

REICHARD: Did he even know the call had taken place? 

DERRICK: Well, I asked him exactly that. 

COATS: I was not aware of that call. I think that probably the White House felt that I was going to be leaving very, very soon, and it wasn’t necessary for me to see the transcript or hear the call.

DERRICK: OK, so it did not have anything to do with the timing of your resignation?

COATS: No, it didn’t. It sure looks like it did, but it didn’t…

DERRICK: What did lead to your resignation?

COATS: Well, there were a series of things that made me believe that it would be in the best interest of the president and in the best interest of me to submit my resignation at a future date. And this was conveyed to the president as significant—months ahead of the time that I left. But the timing of leaving was left to his determination, and of course I learned about that through a tweet to me that was provided just days before I stepped down.

REICHARD: OK, well, there are several more nuggets there. 

DERRICK: Right, Coats says the White House did not make him aware of the call. He also acknowledges that it does look like the call had something to do with his departure. But he says that’s not the case. And he gives the president full responsibility for the exact timing of his departure.

REICHARD: That’s also very interesting. Anything else before we move on to the main portion of the interview? 

DERRICK: Just one—and this is on a completely different subject. You’ll hear him say in the larger interview that he and his wife have been married for 50 years. And in the off-mic portion he talked about the role she has played in his life.

COATS: Well, Marsha has been with me all through all the steps that we have taken in an exciting but yet very challenging lifestyle, but it was her patience and her support, her wise counsel, and love that I think gave me the strength and support that I needed, along with others, to do the job that I did. I think God pretty much let me know that I couldn’t do this on my own, and I needed a partner, and that partner was Marsha. 

REICHARD: Awww! That’s so sweet. 

DERRICK: Yeah, it’s a little window into who he is on a personal level. And that was actually what much of the interview was about—his development as a person and a Christian and how his faith influenced his work as director of national intelligence. 

REICHARD: And we should note that what we’re about to play is only a teaser. The full half-hour interview with Dan Coats will air on our sister podcast Listening In.

We’ll join the interview now as J.C. is asking Coats how faith in God helped him cope with the burden of knowing about security threats around the world. 

DERRICK: Does it help in that moment to have a good sense of God’s sovereignty?

COATS: You have to have a sense of God’s sovereignty or I think you would go bonkers with all that’s happening and with all the threats and potential things that could happen. You do lie in bed at night thinking about what could go wrong, what could happen that would be a major threat to the United States. And it’s a never-ending thought process because dozens and dozens and dozens of different things could go wrong and you’re in a real difficult situation.

There were times when under a lot of stress things needed to be done and said—I remember when I took the oath ending with “so help me God,” that sort of turned into “so, God, please help me.” 

DERRICK: So, you saying that brings to mind one particular instance—when you say things that had to be done that you maybe didn’t want to do but you did anyway… In 2018, there was a very controversial press conference in Helsinki with the president and Russian President Putin. And, as I recall, you were the only senior member of the administration who contradicted your boss in a way and said, no, there was Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Is that one of those tough decisions that you’re talking about?

COATS: Well, I’m really not in a position at this time to go into specifics. What I can say is it was very clear to me that the mission through the oath of office and the mission and responsibilities of being leader of the intelligence community was to adhere to doing everything we could to seek the truth. It became my motto that I wanted all of our people to adhere to—to seek the truth and speak the truth. 

And so seeking the truth requires a lot of effort, because there’s a lot of contradicting things that are being said and done out there, and truth sometimes is defined as what people want to hear or think and not what it actually is. 

And so I had to keep reminding myself and reminding our intelligence community that our job is to make sure we do not politicize or massage or change or manage any kind of information that we had. It had to be the straight stuff. And we had to adhere to that or the whole system would collapse. 

Right now we’re in a situation where some people are defining facts and defining truth as what they want to hear but not exactly to what it is. And we see that coming, sometimes, from both sides on certain issues.  

REICHARD: That’s former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaking with WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick. To hear much more of their conversation, catch Listening In this Friday wherever you listen to podcasts.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) In this Feb. 13, 2018, file photo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Washington Wednesday – Former DNI Dan Coats

  1. Michael H says:

    Ukraine connection? Mr. Coats sees no connection between the timing of his resignation on August 14, 2019 and the Inspector General’s report on the whistleblower on August 16, 2019, but Coats also notes the timing of his resignation was decided entirely by President Trump. By August 14, the President certainly knew that his effort to extort political assistance from Ukraine by withholding military aid was meeting questions, even resistance, from the Departments of Defense and State, and national security and intelligence officials. Even if the President didn’t yet know specifically about the whistleblower, he could see the storm on the horizon. Why not dump a veteran national intelligence director who had already demonstrated both ethics and a spine and replace him with a rookie who might be more malleable? Mr. Coats did not select his resignation date because of the whistle blower or the Ukraine scandal, but President Trump certainly could have.

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