U.S. intelligence chiefs, facing questions from Congress one day before fired FBI director James Comey appears before the Senate intelligence committee, declined to describe conversations with President Donald Trump but said they had not been directed to do anything they considered illegal or felt pressured to do so.
Admiral Michael Rogers, the National Security Agency director, and national intelligence director Dan Coats largely ducked questions from senators on Wednesday about whether the president had tried to influence investigations into Russia’s election meddling and possible co-ordination with the Trump campaign.
“I have never felt pressure to intervene, interfere in any way for shaping intelligence in any way,” Coats said at one point.
But he later demurred when asked whether he was prepared to say that he had never been asked to influence an ongoing investigation, saying, “What I’m not willing to do is to share confidential information that I think ought to be protected in an open hearing.”
The questions from the Senate intelligence committee, at a hearing on surveillance law, were in response to news media reports that both Coats and Rogers had been asked by Trump to publicly state that there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Comey appears before the same committee on Thursday. On Wednesday, he released a letter posted to the Senate panel’s website indicating that Trump asked him to quash an agency probe into his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign in February.
“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Trump is alleged to have said.
The back-to-back hearings come as the White House grapples with the fallout from Comey’s firing, which led to the appointment of a special counsel to take over the Russia investigation in an effort to prevent even the appearance of Oval Office interference.
Questions about Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, and ensuing congressional and FBI investigations into Moscow’s ties with Trump associates, have dogged the president since he took office.
Two other witnesses, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, declined to discuss any aspects of the Russia investigation.
“We have a special counsel who is investigating,” Rosenstein said, when asked about a memo he had written that the White House held up as justification for Comey’s May 9 firing.