Intelligence Chief Refuses to Say if Trump Sought Help Rebuffing FBI Probe
Current and former officials said the president has asked intelligence chiefs to help "push back" against the FBI's Russia investigation
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Tuesday refused to confirm or deny allegations that President Donald Trump had asked him to "push back" against the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Coats' testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee came one day after the Washington Post reported that Trump had appealed to Coats and National Security Agency (NSA) director Michael Rogers independently asking them to "publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election."
Reportedly both intelligence officials "refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president."
During Tuesday's hearing, which was held to discuss worldwide threats, committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Coats if the reporting was "accurate," to which he responded: "I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president."
"I have always believed, given the nature of my position and the information which [the president and I] share, it's not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that," he continued. Responding to a hypothetical follow-up, Coats added that "any political shaping of intelligence would be inappropriate."
The Post's reporting, which was additionally confirmed to NBC News, said that Trump approach Coats and Rogers in March after former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating "the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts."
According to the Post:
Trump's conversation with Rogers was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to the officials. It is unclear if a similar memo was prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to document Trump's conversation with Coats. Officials said such memos could be made available to both the special counsel now overseeing the Russia investigation and congressional investigators, who might explore whether Trump sought to impede the FBI's work.
Meanwhile, former CIA director John Brennan also told the committee on Tuesday that he "encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign." While he said he was unsure if "collusion existed," he noted that the interactions were substantial enough to warrant an investigation, adding: "It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals."