June 7 (UPI) — Four top U.S. intelligence officials told Senate investigators Wednesday that they were not at liberty to discuss certain details about President Donald Trump‘s actions pertaining to the Justice Department’s investigation of Russia.
Appearing before the Senate Committee on Intelligence Wednesday were National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe.
Both Coats and Rogers did not answer whether the president at any time asked them to intervene in the FBI’s investigation, which is looking into possible Kremlin electoral interference and collusion with the Trump campaign.
“I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for me to address that in a public session,” Coats said of his private discussions with Trump.
On May 22, The Washington Post reported that Trump asked Coats and Rogers to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of Russian collusion during his 2016 campaign.
Wednesday, Coats and Rogers said they never felt pressured by Trump to impede any investigation.
“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 believed to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” Rogers said.
“I am not prepared to go down that road right now,” Coats added.
Rogers also referred to earlier statements that he wouldn’t comment on conversations with the president.
“I am not going to discuss the specifics of interactions that I may or may have not had with the president,” the NSA director said.
Coats, who was appointed by Trump and is a former congressman from Indiana, said he would answer questions about the matter at a closed hearing later Wednesday afternoon.
The intelligence officials’ remarks were given one day before former FBI chief James Comey was scheduled to appear. Comey agreed to testify last week after receiving clearance from special investigator Robert Mueller. The White House has said Trump won’t attempt to block his appearance.
Rosenstein, who made a formal recommendation to Trump to fire the FBI director, didn’t reveal specifics of either the Russia probe of Comey’s dismissal on Wednesday. Instead, he referred to his prior statements in the public record.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Coats told associates in March that Trump asked if he could intervene to get the FBI to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“If any of this is true, it would be an appalling and improper use of our intelligence professionals — an act that could erode the public’s confidence in our intelligence institutions,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the panel’s vice chairman, said. “The [intelligence community] fiercely prides itself on its apolitical service to the country. Any attempt by the White House or even the president himself to exploit this community as a tool for political purposes is deeply, deeply troubling.”
The officials’ reluctance to provide certain details irked some members of the committee.
“I don’t understand why you’re not answering our questions,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told Rogers at one point. “What you feel isn’t relevant, admiral. What you feel isn’t the answer. The answer is, why are you not answering the questions?”
Neither Coats nor Rogers answered the panel when asked if they were directed by Trump to intervene in the FBI’s investigation.
“At no time should you be in a position where you come to Congress without an answer,” Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, said toward the end of the hearing. “It may be in a different format, but the requirements of our oversight duties and your agencies demand it.”
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