Published 1:19 PM EDT Sep 15, 2020
WASHINGTON – Hours before President Donald Trump told the world that his director of national intelligence would be leaving his post, Trump ran into Dan Coats on the golf course.
The president never mentioned the tweet he was about to send, according to Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” which hit bookstores Tuesday. Trump has called the book a “political hit job.”
Coats’ wife, Marsha, later concluded that Trump – or someone around him – had not wanted Coats to handle a whistleblower’s complaint from within the intelligence community, Woodward writes.
Coats had stood up to the president often enough that there was much public speculation about whether Coats had been the author of an anonymous New York Times opinion piece critical of Trump and even, initially, whether he was the lower-level member of the intelligence community whose whistleblower complaint eventually led to Trump’s impeachment.
But despite Coats’ apparent extensive cooperation with Woodward, Coats is among the former top administration officials depicted as highly concerned about Trump who nonetheless have not spoken out publicly. (Coats did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Woodward writes that Coats believed Trump has no moral compass, couldn’t shake the suspicion that Trump must be beholden to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that he – along with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – thought Trump was an “unstable threat to their country.”
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Yet, Woodward also writes that Coats had concluded there was no point to speaking out.
“Look,” Coats is quoting as telling Mattis in May of 2019, “others have tried and it’s had no impact whatsoever. They get tarred and feathered.”
Coats is also depicted as being critical of the GOP-controlled Senate for not demanding accountability from Trump at the same time he understood that his former Senate colleagues were just trying to get past the November election.
During the Senate’s impeachment trial, Coats – who had been gone from the administration for five months – “did not want to be the person to speak out and say, ‘Hey, you guys got to stand up.’ ”
As for Vice President Mike Pence, the fellow Hoosier and good friend of Coats who brought him into the administration, Coats believed he had built a cocoon around himself and become passive, subservient and obedient, Woodward writes. Pence encouraged Coats to “look on the positive side of things” that Trump has done.
The book describes Marsha Coats confronting Pence at a White House dinner after something outrageous had happened.
“And I just looked at him, like, how are you stomaching this?” Marsha Coats is quoted as saying. “And he just whispered in my ear, ‘Stay the course.’”
It had been Marsha Coats who – along with Pence – had convinced a reluctant Coats to take the job after leaving the Senate at the end of 2016, according to the book.
Dan Coats had concluded that Pence was trying to seed the cabinet with allies, people who shared his religious values, and agreed to be nominated, Woodward writes.
It wasn’t long, however, before Coats began to think that Trump was impervious to facts.
“To him, a lie is not a lie,” Coats is quoted as saying to Mattis. “It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”
Meetings with Trump often left him with a spinning head and Coats concluded the greatest threat to the national security apparatus was Trump’s practice of bypassing the experts.
Coats was waking up in the middle of the night worried about what Trump might have just tweeted.
He quickly got on Trump’s bad side by resisting the president’s insistence that Coats get involved in the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Coats, though, had his own concerns about Trump’s relationship with Putin. He “suspected the worst” but “found nothing that would show Trump was indeed in Putin’s pocket.”
‘They are wrong!’: Donald Trump crosses swords with intel chief Dan Coats – again
In July of 2018, Coats was being interviewed live, during a public security forum in Colorado, when he was surprised with the news that the White House had announced Putin would be visiting. “Okaaaaay. That’s going to be special,” Coats responded as the audience laughed. Trump was furious.
By February of 2019, their relationship had deteriorated to the point that Coats offered his resignation. Trump asked him to stay until the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, so his departure would not look connected
Coats agreed. He hoped to stay until September to wrap up some pending decisions, according to the book.
There had been no set departure date on the July 2019 Sunday when Trump ran into Coats and his wife in the clubhouse of Trump National Club in Northern Virginia after the president finished 18 holes of golf.
Trump seemed taken aback, Woodward writes. Marsha Coats thought the look on the president’s face showed guilt and dismay.
Afterwards, when the Coatses were on the course’s fourth hole, the national intelligence director was interrupted by his chief of staff informing him that The New York Times had reported he was being replaced.
On the sixth hole, Coats read Trump’s tweet for himself.
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