By John Gizzi
Although it was barely reported, the widely-praised appointment Thursday of former Sen. Dan Coats (R.-Ind.) to be Director of National Intelligence had a sense of poetic justice.
Sixteen years before President-elect Donald Trump turned to the former senator and diplomat for the top intelligence post, Coats had been publicly considered and then rejected as secretary of defense under the last Republican president-elect.
In December, 2000, Coats, who had retired from the Senate two years before, was “at the top of [President-elect George W.] Bush’s list” to be secretary of defense, wrote Bob Woodward in his book “State of Denial.”
A past Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Coats had the backing of conservatives within the Republican Party. Several news outlets reported his appointment to oversee the Pentagon was in the works.
“But Coats had not been impressive in his interview with Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney,” reported Woodward, “Coats knew the new generals mostly from a distance and was lukewarm on the national missile defense system Bush had promised in the campaign.”
Bush’s new reluctance to name Coats secretary of defense gave Cheney the opening to suggest a candidate of his own: Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney’s old boss and mentor, who had been secretary of defense under President Gerald Ford from 1975-77.
In selecting the man who would be secretary of defense for the next six years and the face of his Administration in the war on terror, Bush defied his own father. Rumsfeld and former President George H.W. Bush, past rivals in Congress and the Ford Administration, “couldn’t stand each other,” according to Woodward.
During a lunch with this reporter in 2010 (when he ran successfully for his former Senate seat), Coats said “I thought I had it [the secretary of defense position].”
Coats, 76, now becomes principal advisor to Trump on all intelligence matters related to national security and will oversee the sixteen-agency intelligence community.