Trump Asked Intel Chiefs to Push Back Against FBI Russia Probe

WASHINGTON (CN) –  President Donald Trump asked senior intelligence chiefs to deny any evidence of collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign and the Russians, according to published reports.

The Washington Post broke the story, which is said was based on interviews with several current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the newspaper on background.

According to the report, Trump made the requests separately to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, asking them to keep quiet in public about the nature of the Kremlin’s relationship with the Trump team.

Both Coats and Adm. Rogers reportedly refused to comply with Trump’s request, deeming the request “inappropriate.”

The conversation allegedly took place on March 20, the same day that  former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee. During the hearing, Comey confirmed that his agency was investigating possible Russia-Trump campaign collusion.

The anonymous officials said a senior NSA staffer documented Rogers’ conversation with the president.

Preparation is underway for congressional investigators and Comey is expected to testify on Capitol Hill after lawmakers return from a brief Memorial Day recess.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, confirmed the delay of Comey’s testimony via Twitter on Monday. He said Comey wanted to speak to newly appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller before going public.

If Mueller’s investigation centers on obstruction of justice and the matter becomes a criminal one, Comey will likely become Mueller’s central witness and his public engagement with Congress could be limited.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, took to Twitter shortly after news of the Coats and Rogers leak broke.

“If latest reports are true, the specter of possible obstruction [of justice] has grown larger and more troubling,” Schiff said. “Congress will need to find out.”

Schiff’s committee is one of several panels investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operations.

During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Coats refused to comment on The Washington Post report.

When Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee’s chairman, asked Coats about the story, the former Republican senator from Indiana did not deny the report but said he didn’t want to characterize or comment any private conversations with the president.

McCain pushed again, asking him if thought leaks, like the one Trump may have committed on May 10, were dangerous and Coats conceded that they would be.

Coats also later told the committee that if the president reached out to a director of national security, that any “political shaping” of shared intelligence “would not be appropriate.”

“I’ve made my position clear on that to this administration and I intend to maintain that position,” Coats said.

He was then asked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., if he had such material that could be provided to special counsel Mueller.

Coats also said he had no documents about such a call.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., then asked whether it was dangerous for the president to share that classified information with the Russians.

“I wasn’t in the room,” Coats began to respond. “I’ve heard all the public reports …”

Heinrich cut in.

“You haven’t discussed it?” he asked. “All you’ve read is public reports?” he asked.

“First of all, I’ve been on travel and haven’t discussed this with the president … I was in Europe and he was in the White House,” Coats replied, fidgeting with a pen on the desk before him.

Heinrich then asked Coats to confirm what specific processes are put in place for intelligence community members to disperse classified data with foreign governments.

“We work through a process that I cannot specifically describe here today. I’m new to the job and only weeks in, but there are procedures that I’d be happy to get back to,” Coats said.

“Did President Trump go through any of those processes prior to the May 10 meeting?” Heinrich asked him.

Coats said he didn’t know if the president had.

“That’s very disappointing,”  Heinrich said.

Rogers is scheduled to meet with the House Armed Services committee later on Tuesday.

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