WASHINGTON — Two top officials of the U.S. intelligence community on Wednesday told the Senate that they never felt pressured by President Donald Trump to downplay or end the FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
But Dan Coats, director of National Intelligence, and Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, repeatedly refused to discuss their conversations with Trump or say whether the president had ever asked them to intervene in the FBI’s probe.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe also declined to comment, citing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election and whether Trump associates had coordinated with Russia.
The hearing came a day before the highly anticipated testimony by former FBI Director James Comey before the same committee in his first public appearance since Trump abruptly fired him on May 9. Trump had said at the time on NBC that he had “this Russia thing” in mind when he fired Comey.
“I have never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way . . . in an ongoing investigation,” said Coats, who added that it was inappropriate to talk about his confidential conversations with Trump in an open hearing.
“In the three plus years that I have been director of the National Security Agency, to best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believed to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” Rogers said. “And to the best of my recollection during that same period of service I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.”
But Rogers added, “I am not going to discuss the specifics of any interactions or conversations that I may or may not have had with the president of the United States.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and other Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, reacted with frustration and sharp questions about the refusal of the four to clear up leaked news reports.
“I came out of this hearing with more questions than I came in,” said Warner at the end of the committee’s hearing. “We will ultimately have to get to the content of those conversations.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) pressed Coats and Rogers for a legal justification for refusing to discuss their interactions with Trump. Coats said, “I’m not sure I have a legal basis.”
Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), however, said: “I think you have cleared up substantially that you have never been pressured.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Coats about a Washington Post story published Wednesday that said Coats had told his associates in March that Trump had asked him if he could intervene with Comey, who then was still the FBI director, to get the FBI to back off its focus on Flynn.
“It’s more than disturbing if it’s true,” McCain said. “It’s in this morning’s Washington Post in some detail.”
Coats said many stories contain information that’s not accurate, but insisted that he could not discuss the accuracy of the Post story. “Just because it’s published in The Washington Post doesn’t mean it’s now unclassified,” he said.
“Unfortunately, whether it’s classified or not, it’s now out in the world,” McCain said.