Coats won’t say whether Trump asked him to push back on Russia probe

Ken Dilanian
Director of National Intelligence Agency Dan Coats
Getty Images

During testimony before Congress Tuesday morning Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats refused to address — but he did not deny — reports that President Trump asked him and another top intel official to push back against allegations the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

"I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president," said Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, at a Senate Armed Services Committee worldwide threats hearing.

Trump asked Coats in March to say publicly that he saw no evidence the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election, a former senior intelligence official told NBC News. The president made the same request to Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, the official said. The requests from Trump were first reported by The Washington Post.

Coats and Rogers were sufficiently concerned about the requests that one of them wrote a memo about it, the former official told NBC News. The two men also exchanged notes about their conversations with the president, the source said.

The Post reported that Trump's conversation with Rogers was documented in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. The NSA did not respond to a request for comment.

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Coats wouldn't discuss the matter when he appeared before the Senate. But he did say, in answer to a hypothetical question, that "any political shaping of intelligence would be inappropriate."

A CIA spokesperson declined to comment when asked if CIA Director Mike Pompeo was also asked by President Trump to push back against an FBI investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.

The former official told NBC News that Coats and Rogers did not believe they were being asked to do something illegal. It was more of a public relations request, they believed, according to the official.

"I don't think (Trump) ever asked somebody to say something that they didn't believe was true," the former official said.

He said the two officials were "sufficiently concerned that it was an extraordinary thing that they took care to write it down, but not sufficiently concerned that they reported it."

The former official said Rogers saw the request as a threat to the NSA, which generally doesn't wade into public debates.

"The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals," a White House spokesman told the Washington Post. "The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people."