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Reports Say Trump Pushed Intelligence Agencies to Discredit Russia Probe
The nation’s top intelligence officer ducked questions this morning about whether President Trump asked him to declare publicly that there’s no evidence that the Trump for President campaign colluded with Russian agents attempting to disrupt last year’s U.S. election.
Obviously choosing his words carefully, former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would not be appropriate for him to reveal private discussions with the president.
Coats’ testimony followed a report in The Washington Post alleging that in separate conversations earlier this year with him and Adm. Michael Rogers, the CIA director, President Trump pushed both men to give his campaign what amounts to a clean bill of health concerning possible ties with Russia.
Both men declined the president’s request, the Post reported, believing it represented a threat to the independence of intelligence agencies which are supposed to be insulated from partisan issues.
“The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,” a former senior intelligence official told the Post.
The Post report, and subsequent stories from other news outlets corroborating it, was based on disclosures from confidential sources. News outlets reported that Adm. Rogers composed detailed notes of his conversation with the president immediately following their discussion.
The Post said that “In addition to the requests to Coats and Rogers, senior White House officials sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with (then-FBI Director James) Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, according to people familiar with the matter. The officials said the White House appeared uncertain about its power to influence the FBI.
“‘Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?’ one official said of the line of questioning from the White House,” the newspaper reported.
The reports of Trump’s conversations with spy agency leaders follow Trump’s admission last week that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired Comey earlier this month. The president insists that investigations of possible ties between his campaign and the Russian government are “a witch hunt,” but his apparent efforts to derail the investigations is triggering bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill and calls for an impeachment inquiry among Democrats.
The Justice Department tapped former FBI Director Robert Mueller last week to serve as a special counsel overseeing the Trump/Russia investigations. Committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives also are continuing to pursue their own inquiries. In testimony this morning to the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA director John Brennan said his agency uncovered information last year of contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence operatives. The CIA referred that information to the FBI, Brennan said; he added that Russia tried to cultivate relationships “with U.S. persons” who might “wittingly or unwittingly” help its efforts to promote the Trump campaign and undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.