Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, favors Mr. Ratcliffe as a replacement for Mr. Coats, as do several of Mr. Trump’s more conservative allies, according to administration officials. However, others in Mr. Trump’s group of advisers are skeptical that Mr. Ratcliffe is the right choice. Mr. Ratcliffe’s name has periodically been floated for attorney general, a job he is said to prefer over the intelligence director post, but one unlikely to be available anytime soon.
In eyeing Mr. Ratcliffe, the president was considering a lawmaker who, unlike Mr. Coats, has come to his defense against the investigation into Russia’s efforts to aid Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Mr. Ratcliffe met privately with Mr. Trump at the White House on July 19, according to administration officials, for a meeting about whether he would take the job. Less than a week later, Mr. Ratcliffe accused Mr. Mueller of not following Justice Department guidelines when the special counsel said he could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. If a special counsel cannot bring charges, he should not presume to say a target was not cleared, Mr. Ratcliffe said.
“So Americans need to know this as they listen to the Democrats and socialists on the other side of the aisle as they do dramatic readings from this report that Volume II of this report was not authorized under the law to be written,” Mr. Ratcliffe said of the portion of Mr. Mueller’s report that described how the president sought to impede the investigation.
“It was written to a legal standard that does not exist at the Justice Department and it was written in violation of every D.O.J. principle about extra prosecutorial commentary,” Mr. Ratcliffe added. “I agree with the chairman this morning when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not. But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume II of this report puts him.”
Critics disagreed with Mr. Ratcliffe’s conclusion, noting that department guidelines call for a special counsel to provide a report “explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” at the end of an investigation.
Before the Finland meeting, Mr. Coats had become increasingly vocal in defending the intelligence agencies and their assessment that the Kremlin has been pursuing a campaign of cyberattacks aimed at undermining American democracy. Though Mr. Coats has long held those views, he made a deliberate decision to emphasize the intelligence agencies’ findings before the summit, in what some saw as a challenge to the White House.