Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told associates President Donald Trump had asked for his help in persuading FBI Director James Comey to abandon the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to a report late Tuesday in The Washington Post.
After the meeting with Trump, Coats discussed the conversation with others, officials told the Post, and concluded that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate.
The Post story was one of several published late Tuesday by news outlets depicting a tense White House environment created among top aides by Trump as he allegedly sought to intervene in FBI investigations. The latest revelations also come ahead of Comey’s scheduled testimony Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The New York Times reported that after Trump urged Comey to drop the FBI probe into Flynn, Comey appealed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave him in a room alone with Trump.
Separately, the Post said that tensions were so high between Sessions and Trump that the attorney general at one point offered to resign. Their relationship became strained when Sessions recused himself from any Russia investigation, according to the Post.
Reporters asked Trump on Tuesday about Comey’s scheduled testimony.
“I wish him good luck,” the president said.
Senators on the panel are expected to ask Comey whether Trump urged him to drop the Flynn investigation, whether he asked Comey for his loyalty, and whether the president’s inner circle ever sought to improperly influence any FBI probe into Russian meddling in the election.
Amid published reports of heightened tensions between Trump and Sessions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer would not say definitively whether the president maintains trust in the attorney general.
“If I haven’t had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it,” Spicer said of Trump.
The Times reported that Trump has soured on Sessions and blames him for troubles in the White House.
Trump on Monday tweeted criticism of how the Sessions-led Department of Justice is handling legal challenges to his temporary restrictions on the U.S. entry of nationals of six Muslim-majority countries.
The attorney general does not plan to step down, Justice Department officials told CNN late Tuesday.
Comey told Sessions in a February meeting about his concerns over meeting alone with Trump, according to the Times story. Comey told Sessions that private interactions between an FBI director and the president were inappropriate, but Sessions could not guarantee that Trump would not try to talk to Comey alone again, officials told the Times.
Comey never revealed that Trump’s request about ending the Flynn investigation had made him uncomfortable, but he felt that Sessions should shield the FBI from White House influence, officials told the Times.
At the time Trump fired him, Comey disclosed the meeting to some of his closest advisers but not anyone at the Justice Department, according to the officials cited in the Times, who did not want to be identified discussing Comey’s dealings with Trump and Sessions.
On Sessions’ offer to step down — first reported by ABC News — the Post reported that the strain with Trump began after he recused himself in March from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Coats’ decision not to intervene with Comey at Trump’s request came after a White House briefing March 22 with other government officials, according to the Post.
As the briefing was ending, Trump asked everyone to leave except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the Post reported.
The president complained to Coats and Pompeo about the FBI investigation and the way Comey had handled it, officials familiar with Coats’ account told the Post. Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing two days earlier that the bureau was investigating whether the president’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.