President-elect Donald Trump will reportedly name former Indiana Senator Dan Coats to replace James Clapper as Director of National Intelligence. Coats would become the fifth in the line of senior policymakers who would presumably take a very different approach to Russia than the one articulated by the President-elect and by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn during the campaign season. As I wrote earlier at Just Security, the other four are: Vice President-elect Mike Pence, retired General James N. Mattis, nominee for CIA Director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, Deputy National Security Advisor, KT McFarland (see my earlier post, KT McFarland’s Hardline on Russia with Nuance).
Among Coats’ claims to fame, he was banned from entering Russia in retaliation for his leadership in pursuing sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea. “Putin’s recent aggression is unacceptable, and America must join with our European allies to isolate and punish Russia,” Coats remarked at the time. “I will continue to lead efforts on Capitol Hill to bring Putin to his senses.” Coats also criticized the White House sanction package against Putin as too limited, Coats told CNN, “It’s a baby step in the right direction … we need to do a lot more than this to get this bully in the playground stood up to by the United States.” Coats lauded the intelligence community’s information that Russia was “virtually assured” of being “complicit” in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which explained created a need for “crippling sanctions.” Finally, in an interview of the Steve Malzburg Show, Coats had these ominous words about the global intentions of Vladimir Putin:
“You would think Europe, given its history under the thumb of the Third Reich, would see that this history is starting to be repeated and . . . the earlier you address this, the earlier you stand up to it, the less consequences there will be in the future . . . We need to stop Putin before he goes any further.”
The selection of Coats adds another piece to the puzzle of how the Trump administration might pursue relations with Russia. For NATO allies, Coats offers some measure of reassurance about the commitments of the United States over the coming years. As Juliette Kayyem noted a few days ago, with Trump’s stance on the issue of Russian election hacking and the intelligence community, this will be “one heck of a confirmation hearing” to watch.