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Top Intel Officials Dodge Questions On Trump's Alleged Interference In Russia Probe

08/06/2017 1:57 AM AEST | Updated 08/06/2017 3:27 AM AEST

WASHINGTON ― Two of the country’s top intelligence officials on Wednesday declined to discuss their conversations with President Donald Trump about the federal investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers told members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that they did not think it was appropriate to describe their discussions with Trump in public. Both said generally that they didn’t feel pressured to do anything they considered to be wrong, but neither would reveal what, exactly, Trump had said to them about the Russia probe.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the intelligence committee, asked Coats and Rogers about reports that Trump tried to pressure government officials to either interfere with an FBI investigation or push back on claims by former FBI Director James Comey that the bureau was investigating possible collaboration between Russia and Trump.

In one revealing moment, under questioning by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), neither Coats nor Rogers would say if they were asked by Trump to interfere in the Russia probe. That’s a separate question than whether they felt pressure to do something they thought was wrong. 

“I’m not prepared to answer your question today,” Coats said. Rogers agreed.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Coats told associates Trump asked him to intervene with Comey and get him to back off former national security adviser Michael Flynn. On March 22, two days after Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump asked Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to intervene in the ongoing FBI investigation. 

But both Coats and Rogers worked hard to avoid making any new disclosures on Wednesday. 

“It is my belief that it’s inappropriate to share that with the public,” Coats said on Wednesday. “I don’t think this is the appropriate venue to do this in.”

“I’m not going to discuss the specifics of discussions with the president of the United States,” Rogers said. But Rogers did note that during his time in office, he had never been directed to do anything he considered inappropriate or immoral, and he didn’t recall ever feeling pressured.

Coats and Rogers testified Wednesday alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. The focus of the hearing was on reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a counterterrorism tool that is supposed to be used only to target non-U.S. persons.

Comey is expected to testify before the committee on Thursday.

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