WASHINGTON — Top national security officials dodged questions from a Senate committee Wednesday as to whether they were asked by President Trump to intervene in the FBI’s probe into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
During a hearing, both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA Director Michael Rogers told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that they never felt pressured to intervene in investigations but declined to discuss specifics.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Trump privately asked Coats and CIA head Mike Pompeo to get then-FBI Director James Comey to back off his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Coats reportedly felt the request was inappropriate and did not act on the president’s request.
“I have never felt pressured to intervene or interfere,” Coats said in response to questioning from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the committee.
Coats said he would not discuss the matter in public, because it involved confidential conversations.
“I don’t believe it is appropriate for me to discuss that in public session,” Coats said. “I don’t think this is the appropriate venue to do that.”
Coats used nearly identical language last month to skirt questions from the Senate Armed Forces about a Post report that he and Rogers were asked by Trump to publicly deny evidence of cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
“On this topic, as well as other topics, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president,” Coats said at the time.
Rogers also said Wednesday he would not address conversations with the president but added that he had not been directed to undertake illicit activity.
“To the best of my recognition, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” Rogers told the committee.
Members of both parties expressed frustration at the testimony. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said he felt the panel, which included Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, had a duty to answer his questions.
“What’s the basis for your refusal to answer questions today?” King, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, asked Coats.
Coats responded that he “wasn’t sure” he had a legal basis to avoid the issue, noting the White House had not invoked executive privilege, but also did not commit to addressing the matter in closed session.
Both Coats and Rogers said they would answer more fully in closed session but did not rule out Trump’s invoking executive privilege then.
The testimony comes ahead of Comey’s highly anticipated appearance before the same committee Thursday, when he is expected to discuss conversations with Trump regarding the FBI investigation.
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