President-elect Donald Trump has selected Wheaton alumnus and former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats ‘65 as the Director of National Intelligence, the transition team announced on Saturday.
“I’m very confident that Senator Dan Coats is the right choice to serve as Director of National Intelligence,” Trump said in a statement. “Dan has clearly demonstrated the deep subject matter expertise and sound judgment required to lead our intelligence community.”
The role of DNI was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to improve organization between the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Once the Senate confirms the nomination, Coats would lead the 16 agencies within the intelligence community, including the CIA, and serve as the principal advisor to the president on issues of national intelligence.
Coats would succeed James Clapper, who recently testified in Congress that Russia had interfered with the election through cyber espionage.
Coats, too, has been critical of Russia, urging President Obama to respond harshly to Russia for the 2014 annexation of Crimea. When the U.S. levied sanctions against Moscow, Coats along with other lawmakers was then banned from Russia for supporting the sanctions.
Russia has since taken center stage post-election, given the new Intelligence Community Assessment report claiming that Russia sought to “denigrate” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and establish a “clear preference” for Donald Trump.
The president-elect has expressed doubt in the allegations against Russia, saying the U.S. needs to “move on to bigger and better things.” But in a press conference Wednesday, Trump acknowledged for the first time that Russia was responsible for interfering in the election, saying “I think it was Russia” before later saying it may have been another country.
The DNI nomination announcement also came one day after the release of a declassified intelligence report on Russia’s involvement in the presidential election. Trump hopes to improve the relationship with Russia and has repeatedly clashed with U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusions that the Kremlin interfered in the presidential election. Trump’s transition team has also sought to reorganize the intelligence agencies to increase efficiency, though Coats’ nomination could ease fears in a significant overhaul to the department.
Coats is a Capitol Hill veteran, having served in Congress for over two decades after receiving his degree in political science at Wheaton in 1965. The Republican served in the House for eight years before moving to the Senate in 1989, replacing Dan Quayle, who became the vice president to George H.W. Bush. He then served on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committee and was also the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the George W. Bush presidency.
In 1999, Coats received the Wheaton College Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service to Society award.