INDIANAPOLIS — When the news first broke more than two years ago that Dan Coats would be Donald Trump’s director of National Intelligence, I was in Washington, D.C., interviewing former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana.
Lugar and Coats had served together in the Senate for a decade. They often worked closely together.
I asked Lugar — whose foreign policy and national security credentials were second to none — if it was a good sign that Coats was going to serve as the nation’s intelligence chief.
“It’s a very good sign,” Lugar said before the question was even all the way out of my mouth.
Lugar went on to add that Coats not only would bring a rare depth of experience to the job, but also an unbreakable commitment to serving the nation’s interests. Coats, Lugar said, would serve his country with honor and distinction.
Lugar was right.
Coats did serve his country with honor and distinction.
And that appears to have cost him his job.
On Sunday, Coats resigned, effective Aug. 15. His resignation may not have been voluntary. Reports of tension between Coats and the president have floated around from the early days of the Trump administration.
Coats committed at least two sins in the cultish world of the Trump White House.
The first is that he told the truth about foreign, largely Russian, attempts to influence our elections. The president’s view of his elevation to the Oval Office involves an immaculate denial of the unholy forces that worked on his behalf. Despite overwhelming evidence that Russian intelligence officers planned and executed efforts in 2016 to tip the presidential election in Trump’s favor — and that they still seek to shape U.S. elections — the president prefers to pretend there was no interference.
Coats knew otherwise and said so.
Coats’ other sin was related to the first.
In Trump World, one’s greatest allegiance must be to the Donald. Coats did not see things that way. As Richard Lugar said, Dan Coats believed that his primary duty was to the nation, not to the individual occupying the White House.
That’s why, right until the end, he worked hard to establish protections against outside interference in our elections and other political processes.
It was a lonely struggle.
Not only was the president determined to live in a fantasy world, but his chief enabler — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky — also worked to keep the doors open to foreign involvement and tampering with our elections.
The result is that a signal has been sent around the world that it is open season on American elections.
Trump and McConnell may delude themselves into thinking the interference will be confined to Russians doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding — interference that likely will continue to help the president and the GOP — but the truth is that Russia’s success has pointed the way for other nations to do the same thing.
If Trump and McConnell continue to work to scuttle all efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections, there is nothing to stop the Chinese — who are no fans of this president or the Republican Party — from launching their own campaigns of interference. That interference likely will benefit Democrats.
But that is beside the point.
Regardless of which foreign nation interferes in our political process or for what purpose — it’s wrong.
Our elections are just that.
They are our chance, as Americans, to determine not just who will lead us, but what we want to say about ourselves as a country. In a nation such as ours, elections are — or at least they should be — sacred, because our system is founded on the principle that government draws its authority from the freely offered consent of the those being governed.
Dan Coats understood that.
In a federal government now plagued by short-sightedness, corruption and selfishness, Coats did his duty and comported himself with impeccable integrity.
That’s why he’s gone.
— John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.