Reports are flying all over Washington today that one of the final cabinet-level positions left open in the Trump administration, the position of director of national intelligence, will be filled by former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.
This is in many ways a safe pick (certainly safer than the flamboyantly mustachioed John Bolton, rumored to be in the mix for the job as well) for a potentially perilous position. Coats just left the Senate at the end of 2016, so his confirmation should be relatively easy. He has significant on-paper credentials, having recently served on the Senate’s intelligence committee. His international chops were presumably established by a stint as U.S. ambassador to Germany during the period between his temporary retirement from the Senate in 1998 and his return in 2010. And he was reportedly thought of highly enough in GOP national security circles that he was a candidate for secretary of Defense under George W. Bush before the fateful decision to go with Donald Rumsfeld. You have to figure that as a Hoosier he had the enthusiastic backing of the veep-elect.
It’s not clear exactly where Coats, or indeed anyone Trump might have named, comes down on what has suddenly become the defining challenge of his job: adjudicating strong differences of opinion between the CIA and the FBI, and between both agencies and the White House. Coats does have a reputation for having very good manners, which he will need.
There are several potential negatives about Coats. He’s 73 years old, not the best age for launching a new career in managing vicious bureaucratic turf fights. Between Senate terms he spent some time as a Beltway lobbyist, which makes him a living symbol of Washington’s revolving-door syndrome— a.k.a. “the swamp” Donald Trump was supposed to drain. And Coats likely made some permanent enemies back in the day by leading the opposition to Bill Clinton’s original proposal to allow gay folks to serve in the military. He remains a member of the shadowy conservative Christian organization, sometimes called “The Fellowship” or “The Family,” that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast.
One lucky thing for Coats: In a cabinet like Trump’s, nobody’s likely to even notice his personal wealth. His personal net worth as of 2014 was a paltry $12.3 million.