America's top intelligence officials said Wednesday they have never felt pressure from the president or White House officials to act unethically or inappropriately, but ultimately refused to say whether President Donald Trump asked them to help downplay the FBI investigation into potential ties between his campaign and the Russian government.
Navy Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday following a Washington Post report that said Trump asked Coats to get since-fired FBI Director James Comey and the bureau to ease its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its election-related probe.
The Post also previously reported that Trump had asked Rogers to say publicly there was no evidence of campaign collusion with Russia if there was none, and made a similar request to Coats.
Under questioning about Trump's reported request by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee's vice chairman, Rogers said that during his tenure as NSA director, he did not remember ever being "directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate.
"And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so," he said.
Pressed by Warner, Rogers declined to go into any detail.
"I'm not going to discuss the specifics of conversations with the president of the United States, but I stand by the comment I just made to you, sir," he said.
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.
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Coats, to similar questions, said it would not be appropriate to discuss his conversations with Trump in an open hearing, but indicated he'd be willing to go into more detail in a closed session with the committee.
"In my time of service, which is interacting with the president of the United States or anybody in his administration, I have never been pressured, I've never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way, or in relationship to an ongoing investigation," Coats said.
Wednesday's hearing was called to discuss the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, though its focus veered amid the new revelations.
It comes a day before Comey – whom Trump also reportedly asked to shutter the probe into Flynn – is expected to appear before the same committee and discuss his interactions with the president, who fired him last month.