Senators grill top intelligence officials about whether Trump pressured them to ease off Russia investigations

WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee held an open hearing to discuss Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation with top intelligence officials on Wednesday, and lawmakers homed in on the circumstances surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s firing.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner told witnesses NSA Director Mike Rogers, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that it was “jarring” to hear “recent reports of White House officials — perhaps even the president himself — attempting to influence and enlist our intelligence community leaders in attempting to undermine an ongoing FBI investigation.”

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Trump had asked Coats how he could prevent Comey from investigating his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, over his ties to Russia. Trump fired Comey on May 9, amid the FBI’s probe into Russian election interference and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow during the election.

“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,” Warner 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.”

Warner asked NSA Director Mike Rogers whether, in his experience, he thought it was “typical for a president” to discuss an ongoing FBI investigation that could concern his campaign with top intelligence officials.

Rogers replied he could not discuss specifics, but said that in his three-plus years as NSA director, he had never felt “pressured” to intervene in, or alter, the course of an investigation. He added that he had never been “directed” to do anything “immoral” or “illegal.”

Coats had a similar response, saying he did not feel it would be “appropriate” to address “confidential information” about his conversations with Trump in a public setting. With regard to the Washington Post report, Coats would not mention Trump by name. But he said he had “never felt pressured” by anyone “to intervene or interfere in any way to shape intelligence” in an ongoing investigation.

Warner replied that if Trump is “even asking,” however, “to me that is very relevant… at some point these facts have to come out.”

Sen. Marco Rubio chimed in later, saying he thought that what was being said in the media “is untrue, and is unfair to the president,” but that if it is true, the American people need to know.

Coats replied that he is willing to come before the committee “to tell you what I know and don’t know,” but he said he is “not prepared to answer your question” in an open hearing. Rubio replied that he is not asking for classified information. But Coats insisted he would “not go down that road in a public forum.”

Rogers echoed Coats’ statement. McCabe and Rosenstein said they were not aware of anyone in receiving a call from the president or his allies asking how they could intervene in any ongoing investigations.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden asked if any of the witnesses had taken notes or recorded any of their conversations with the president that concerned the Russia investigation, as Comey reportedly did. None would comment.

This story is developing.

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