Former senator Dan Coats, in line to be national intelligence director, has swung back and forth between government service and lobbying, the type of Washington career that Donald Trump has mocked.
The Indiana Republican, 73, has made four spins through the capital’s revolving door and become wealthy in the process. Since the early 1980s, Coats has either served in government or earned money as a lobbyist and board director. His most recently available Senate financial disclosure, from 2014, shows he had a net worth of more than $12m.
In and out of government, Coats dealt with intelligence, which he would oversee for the Trump administration if confirmed by the Senate. Announcing his selection on Saturday, Trump cited Coats’ “deep subject matter expertise and sound judgment” and government service but did not mention his lobbying.
When Coats first left the Senate in 1999, he abided by the legally required year-long cooling off period before joining a firm that lobbied his former colleagues on behalf of foreign clients.
He resumed government service in 2001 as ambassador to Germany under President George W Bush. In 2005, Coats returned to the US as a lobbyist on behalf of some of the country’s biggest companies, including the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Five years later, he successfully ran for his old Senate seat.
“This is exactly how people outside of Washington think Washington works,” said Meredith McGehee, a chief at the government watchdog group Issue One.
“It’s the internecine nature of policymakers getting rich off the people they once regulated. And then to come back into the government – it can be a tough task for any person to basically now bite the hand that fed you.”
Trump aides stressed that Trump’s lobbying policies were foward-looking. Spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was hiring the most qualified people for his administration.
Coats “recognizes the opportunity to serve outweighs any possibility of personal gain”, Spicer said.
If confirmed, Coats would head an agency created after the September 11 attacks to improve coordination among US spy and law enforcement agencies.Coats is not the only one in Trump’s still-forming administration to have worked on both sides of the government power structure.
Robert Lighthizer, picked to be US trade representative, spent years as a registered lobbyist, representing steel companies, among others, as recently as 2012. He joined the law firm Skadden in 1998, after having been at the trade office for two years during the Reagan administration.
Rick Perry, Trump’s choice as energy secretary, registered in Texas as a lobbyist for the country’s largest private dental insurance company a little over a year after leaving office as the state’s longtime governor.
When Trump talked on the campaign trail about “draining the swamp” of Washington – a catchphrase that remains popular at his rallies – he specifically denounced the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street, the hub of lobbying that attracts many ex-lawmakers.
“They’re making a fortune,” Trump said at a 20 October campaign rally in Delaware, Ohio. “Not going to happen. That’s why they make all these sweetheart deals.”
Coats earned more than $600,000 in his final year at the Washington law and government relations firm King & Spalding, where he worked until his second Senate run.
Trump has banned all top administration and transition officials from registering as lobbyists for five years after serving under him. In his “drain the swamp” agenda, released a few weeks before election day, he called on Congress to restrict itself in the same way.
Trump’s prohibitions would have cost Coats two rounds of lobbying jobs.
Coats’ lobbying became a theme of his second Senate bid campaign. By then his history included some 40 clients and a stint with Verner, Lipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, a firm that did foreign agent work for authoritarian governments in Yemen, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Coats said he did no foreign agent work for those countries while he was at Verner. He said his involvement on behalf of foreign governments was limited to India.
He defended his overall lobbying work in a 2010 interview with the Indianapolis Star: “CEOs or big companies love to come in, and they don’t want to sit down with a 26-year-old staffer,” he said.
Citing two other former senators, he added: “They want to sit down with George Mitchell or Dan Coats or Connie Mack. The firm wants them to know these people are with us and they want our judgment.”
While with King & Spalding in 2008, Coats worked for Sprint during the Bush administration’s effort to revamp the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Backed by Bush, Sprint and other major telecom companies mounted an aggressive campaign to grant them immunity for partnering with the National Security Agency in sweeping surveillance on Americans without warrants from the Fisa court. Civil rights groups had threatened to sue the firms over their work with the government.
King & Spalding’s disclosures show that Coats talked with Congress members and federal officials about the measure, which the firm said “would affect providers of communications services in connection with electronic surveillance”.
The disclosure also said Coats’ and the others’ lobbying also dealt with national security bills in the Senate and House aimed at revamping provisions of the surveillance law.
While the disclosures say little about the aim of the lobbying effort, the phone companies worked with the Bush administration at the time to erect legal backing for their secret dealings with the NSA.
When Coats returned to lawmaking in 2011, joining the Senate intelligence committee, he was a dependable conservative voice in support of the NSA – and the communications industry.