Listen to audio version of this article
I admit to being obsessed with sports analogies. So when I heard the news of President Donald Trump withdrawing the nomination of Congressman John Ratcliffe (R–Texas) as Director of National Intelligence (DNI), I immediately thought the following words: DOWN GOES RATCLIFFE!!!
This is, of course a reference to the Howard Cosell broadcast of the February, 1973 Kingston, Jamaica world heavyweight championship fight in which George Foreman wrested the crown from Joe Frazier with a technical knockout in the second round after knocking Joe down six times. Howard’s words after the first knockdown, “DOWN GOES FRAZIER!” still ring in my ears 46 years later!
The second thought I had was a bit more serious. What about the possibility of Trump nominating former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as DNI?
The sound you just heard was that of some of my readers fainting. Nobody has been more critical than I of the gubernatorial record of Chris Christie. As I said in my last column, he left the office of governor in January, 2018 both as an object of contempt, due to Bridgegate, and ridicule, due to Beachchairgate. And the thought of Christie as President is both laughable and frightening to me.
I have always said, however, that Chris Christie was an excellent US Attorney during his tenure in the Bush 43 administration. And in that position, Christie actually did successfully prosecute individuals involved in terrorism and gained a first-rate knowledge of national intelligence issues.
Moreover, Christie has an excellent relationship with FBI Director Christopher Wray, who formerly represented him on various Bridgegate related matters. This relationship would serve him very well as DNI.
And Christie would have little difficulty in being confirmed by the Senate. Unlike Trump himself and various Trump intimates, Christie is not a bigot, misogynist, or a xenophobe.
The job would be right in Christie’s wheelhouse. He would also be superb in dealing with the media. Although he is not photogenic, Chris Christie never met a camera he didn’t like.
I have little doubt that Chris Christie would refrain from politicizing national intelligence. And he would maintain his independence from The Donald. Yet while this would make Christie an excellent choice, this is exactly why Trump would be reluctant to appoint him – and why Senate Republican Leader “Moscow Mitch” McConnell would advise against the appointment.
Moreover, Chris Christie is no political fool. He knows that the chances of Trump being reelected are less than the chances of Christie inviting me to have dinner with him. And Christie may not see himself being well served by an association with a sinking Trump ship. Hence, he may be reluctant to accept the appointment. Chris Christie knows Jim Comey very well.
Still, Trump is in dire need of a short-term political victory, which an appointment of Christie as DNI would give him. And even short-term service as DNI would greatly boost Christie’s national stature and revive his presently moribund future presidential prospects.
So while a Trump appointment of Chris Christie as DNI is not likely, I wouldn’t bet against it either.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.