Trump's intelligence chiefs refuse to say if he's asked them about Russia investigation

NSA Director Mike Rogers and DNI Dan Coats offered ambiguous answers during a Senate Intel hearing on Wednesday

By Matthew Rozsa

Published June 7, 2017 3:28PM (EDT)

Dan Coats (AP/Alex Brandon)
Dan Coats (AP/Alex Brandon)

In a much anticipated Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats were willing to tell the committee that they had not been "pressured" or "directed" by President Donald Trump to obstruct the ongoing Russia investigation -- but stopped short of saying the president had never discussed it with them.

Members of the United States Senate took notice.

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When Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico asked Coats if Trump had requested "your assistance in blunting the Russia investigation," he made it clear that he wasn't asking how Coats felt, but rather simply if that conversation had taken place at all.

"And once again, Senator, I will say that I do believe it's inappropriate for me to discuss that in an open session," Coats replied.

When Heinrich pointed out that answering the question would not release classified information and that it would be "simple" for Coats to just reply no if it never happened, the two men began to exchange heated words over what Heinrich seemed to perceive as Coats' evasiveness. After Coats reiterated that "I do not share with the general public conversations that I had with the president or many of my colleagues within the administration that I believe should not be shared."

Heinrich shot back, "I think your unwillingness to answer a very basic question speaks volumes."

"Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the president of the United States of executive privilege? Is there or not?" Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine quizzed Coats. "What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?"

"I'm not sure I have a legal basis," Coates, a former GOP senator, admitted.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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