WASHINGTON – The nation’s top intelligence official essentially shot down a bombshell report that President Trump tried to interfere in the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by his associates with Moscow.
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence committee on Wednesday morning that, “In my time of service, which is interacting with the president of the United States or anybody in his administration, I have never been pressured, I’ve never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship to an ongoing investigation.”
Coats initially declined to make any comment at all on the matter, stating, “I do not feel it is appropriate for me in a public session to breach confidential conversations between the president and myself in a public session,” and, “I don’t think this is the appropriate venue to do this in.”
However, under persistent grilling by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va, Coats then issued what appeared to be a blanket denial of a Washington Post report that Trump had tried to get him to interfere in the FBI’s Russia probe.
Coats even indicated he did not find the Post always credible.
When Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the report detailed and disturbing, if true, Coats replied, with a smile, that he had been in Washington long enough not to take everything the paper reports “at face value.”
On Tuesday, the Post claimed that in a one-on-one meeting with Coats on March 22, Trump “asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe.”
Basing its story on anonymous “officials,” the Post reported, “The events involving Coats show the president went further than just asking intelligence officials to deny publicly the existence of any evidence showing collusion during the 2016 election.”
But Coats appeared to flatly contradict that with his blanket statement that he never felt pressured to interfere or intervene in any investigation by the president or anyone in his administration.
Warner got an even more forceful denial from National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, who also initially declined to comment, saying, “I’m not going to discuss the specifics of any conversations with the president of the United States.”
But Rogers seemed visibly irritated when Warner continued to press him on the subject, finally stating with a flash of apparent anger, “In the three plus years that I have been the director of the National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate.”
He added, “And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall feeling ever pressured to do so.”
After repeatedly trying to get Coats to confirm the Post story, even after he had apparently flatly contradicted it, a frustrated Warner gave up, commenting, “At some point, these facts have to come out.”
He was, no doubt, expressing hope he will get a different answer from former FBI Director James Comey, who is scheduled to testify before the committee on Thursday.
But Warner may be in for more frustration.
ABC News reported late Tuesday evening that there will be much in Comey’s testimony “that will make the White House uncomfortable, but he will stop short of saying the president interfered with the agency’s probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.”
ABC said “a source familiar with the former FBI director’s thinking,” revealed that Comey “has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice.”
The New York Times has reported that on Feb. 14, the day after firing his national security director, Trump told Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
But the Times reporting was based on a memo of the meeting Comey supposedly drafted, a memo the Times did not see, but said was described to reporters by two anonymous sources.