U.S. President Donald Trump asked two of the country’s top intelligence chiefs to publicly disavow possible Russian collusion with his election campaign, but the officials considered the request to be inappropriate and refused, U.S. media reports say.
Trump made separate appeals in March to Daniel Coats, the national intelligence director, and to Admiral Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, according to U.S. news accounts citing current and former U.S. officials. Trump urged them to rebut claims that Russia coordinated its effort with Trump campaign aides to help the real-estate-magnate-turned-Republican-politician win the White House.
The president sought the help from Coats and Rogers shortly after James Comey, the then-director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told lawmakers the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Russian interests and Trump aides during the 2016 election.
Brennan said he did not know whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian interests.
Brennan said he “encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”
WATCH: Brennan testimony on Trump intelligence sharing
At a congressional hearing Tuesday, Coats did not deny the report but declined to comment about it.
Coats said several investigations of Trump campaign links with Russia “are in place to get us to the right conclusion with a known result,” so the country can move on to deal with other issues.
At a second congressional hearing, former Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan told lawmakers, “It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process and that they undertook these activities despite our strong protests, and explicit warning that they not do so.” But he said he did not know whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian interests.
Trump fired Comey two weeks ago. He said that at the time he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he dismissed Comey as head of the country’s top law enforcement agency because he considers the possible Russia-Trump campaign link as an excuse opposition Democrats are using to explain the stunning upset election loss of Trump’s opponent, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Obstruction of justice
Subsequently, reports emerged that Trump in several conversations with Comey had asked for his personal loyalty, which Comey declined to offer. According to the reports, Trump also asked the FBI chief to back off his investigation of Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army General Michael Flynn. Trump ousted Flynn in February after just 24 days on the job when it came to light that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the weeks before Trump took office in late January.
Some Democrats have suggested that Trump’s actions amount to obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.
Last week, against White House wishes, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, named another former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as special counsel to lead the criminal investigation of possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
Several congressional panels are also investigating Russian meddling in the election, including hacking into the computer of Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, and the subsequent release of thousands of his emails by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks that showed embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the party’s presidential nomination. Clinton has blamed the release of the emails in the weeks leading up to the November 8 election as partly to blame for her loss.
The White House offered no comment on the reported calls Trump made to Coats and Rogers.
“The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals,” a spokesperson said. “The President will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people.”