Coats won't say whether Trump asked him to deny Russian collusion evidence

By Allen Cone  |  Updated May 23, 2017 at 1:57 PM
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May 23 (UPI) -- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to comment Tuesday whether President Donald Trump asked him to publicly deny evidence exists of cooperation between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 election

Coats was called to testify before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., questioned him about a Washington Post report that Trump allegedly asked him and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, to publicly dispute that any evidence exists of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Coats and Rogers turned down his requests saying they were inappropriate, according to the report.

"Is that an accurate reporting, Director Coats?" McCain asked.

"Mr. Chairman, as the president's principal intelligence adviser, I'm fortunate to spend a significant amount of time with the president discussing national security interests and intelligence as it relates to those interests. We discuss a number of topics.

"It's not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that."

McCain asked whether those leaked reports, based on unnamed sources, are a problem.

"Lives are at stakes in many instances, and leaks jeopardize those lives," Coats replied.

The top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, asked Coats hypothetically whether it would be appropriate for a president to ask the director of national intelligence to deny evidence of cooperation.

"I made clear in my confirmation hearing for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, my role and the role of the director of national intelligence is to provide intelligence information relevant to policy makers so they can base their judgments on that," Coats, a former Republican senator, said. "Any political shaping of that presentation for intelligence would not be appropriate. I have made my position clear on that to this administration and I intend to maintain that position."

Coats told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., he would share details of his conversation with the president if he is asked to testify by the House or Senate intelligence committees, both of which are investigating Russia's election hacking and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that effort.

"I do believe that the information and discussions that I've had with the president are something that should not be disclosed," Coats said. "On the other hand, if I'm called before an investigative committee, I certainly will provide them with what I know and what I don't know."

Then-FBI Director James Comey revealed in February that Trump asked him to shut down the federal investigation into Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Comey wrote a memo shortly after the meeting in the Oval Office, detailing Trump's request.

Trump fired Comey, who was leading a separate Justice Department investigation on Russia, on May 9.

Rogers, who has served as NSA director since 2014, also was to appear before the committee to discuss the annual budget.

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