By Dan Boylan – The Washington Times – Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Two of the government’s top intelligence officials said Wednesday that they did not feel pressured to end investigations into Russian meddling in the November presidential election, though fired FBI Director James B. Comey did say President Trump asked him to drop a piece of the probe looking into a former top aide.
In testimony prepared for delivery Thursday to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. Comey also confirmed that he thrice told Mr. Trump he was not personally under investigation.
But the former director said Mr. Trump did suggest cutting short the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, asking the FBI to “let this go.”
In recounting five interactions with the president, Mr. Comey never uses the term “obstruction of justice” and makes clear that Mr. Trump said the investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence the election should be completed to ensure that affiliates of his campaign didn’t violate any laws.
But overall, Mr. Comey described a testy relationship with Mr. Trump that began when he confronted the president-elect with unsubstantiated and “salacious” rumors during the transition, then later felt the newly elected president was trying to force on Mr. Comey a “patronage relationship.”
“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Comey.
The committee released the prepared testimony just hours after it heard from Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, on similar topics.
The two men sidestepped questions about their specific interactions with Mr. Trump, but both said they didn’t feel pressure to curtail the FBI’s probe into suspected collusion between the Kremlin and Trump campaign associates.
“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,” Mr. Coats said.
According to recent Washington Post and New York Times reporting, Mr. Trump asked both Mr. Coats and Adm. Rogers to try to influence the Russia investigation and reduce its damage to the Oval Office.
Despite making no direct claims of wrongdoing, Mr. Comey does describe a strange and strained relationship that, according to the former FBI director, appeared to be an effort to demand loyalty.
He emerged from a Jan. 27 meeting, just a week after the inauguration, saying he felt Mr. Trump was trying to pressure him by asking him — for a third time — whether he wanted to stay on as FBI director.
“My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch,” Mr. Comey says.
White House independent counsel Marc Kasowitz said later Wednesday that Mr. Trump was satisfied that Mr. Comey had finally confirmed in public that he was not under investigation in any Russia probe.
“The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda,” Mr. Kasowitz said.
Wednesday’s hearing included Mr. Coats, Adm. Rogers, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was nominally called to discuss Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provisions.
But the thrust of the gathering addressed the Russia issue.
While Mr. Coats was firm in his denial of ever feeling pressured by the White House, he implied that he could provide more details of his White House conversations only in a closed meeting.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to address that in a public session,” he said.
The answers by Mr. Coats and the others indicate that Mr. Trump, in conversations with the leaders, may have asked the status of the investigations and said they should be dropped if they hadn’t produced anything actionable.
Mr. Comey will appear before the Senate intelligence committee at 10 a.m. Thursday to discuss his dealing with Mr. Trump leading up to his abrupt dismissal on May 9.
Lawmakers are expected to seize upon a particular passage about how the men seemed to interpret the phrase “honest loyalty” — which staffers on Capitol Hill are saying could allude to attempts by Mr. Trump to obstruct justice.
Mr. Warner began the morning’s Senate hearing by telling the assembled chiefs of America’s leading law enforcement and intelligence agencies that the White House had engaged in an “appalling and improper use” of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.
But when asked, Mr. Coats, Adm. Rogers, Mr. McCabe and Mr. Rosenstein basically deflected attacks or said they could not discuss key matters in a public forum.
Frazzled Democrats were at times joined by exasperated Republicans as the number of questions being dodged increased.
Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and the panel chairman, went so far as rebuke the intelligence officials for their lack of transparency.
“At no time should you be in a position where you come to Congress without an answer,” he said at the hearing’s end.
When Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, sparred with Mr. Rosenstein, Mr. Burr had to jump in and suspend her line of inquiry.
Last month, Mr. Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special council to take over the Justice Department’s Russia probe. On Wednesday, Ms. Harris grilled him for specifics and guarantees that Mr. Mueller could not be fired by the president, as Mr. Comey was.
“Sir, if I may, the greater assurance is not that you and I believe in Mueller’s integrity,” she said as Mr. Rosenstein’s face tightened.
When he started speaking, she cut him off again until Mr. Burr finally intervened.
“The chair is going to exercise his right to allow the witness to answer the question,” the North Carolina Republican declared.
Ms. Harris scowled.
Sen. John McCain, not an intelligence committee member but in attendance at the discretion of the committee, painted a dark picture of the intelligence community’s inability to provide answers.
The Arizona Republican said Mr. Coats‘ refusal to explain about a conversation that The Washington Post already reported “shows what kind of an Orwellian existence that we live in.”
The Post report contained details of Mr. Trump allegedly complaining to Mr. Coats after a March 22 White House briefing about Mr. Comey’s handling of the Russia probe.
“Here in a public hearing before the American people, we can’t talk about what was described in detail in this morning’s Washington Post,” Mr. McCain said.
⦁ Andrea Noble and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.