In­tel chiefs felt no Trump pressure

Comey con­firms queries on Flynn, no in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN

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 pres­i­den­t­elect 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.

‘To­tally vin­di­cated’

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.

Se­nate frus­tra­tion

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FIL­ING IN: From left: Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Di­rec­tor Daniel Coats, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency di­rec­tor Adm. Michael Rogers and act­ing FBI Di­rec­tor An­drew McCabe ar­rived at the Se­nate hear­ing with lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about a Trump-Rus­sia con­nec­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Mark R. Warner (left), Virginia Demo­crat and vice chair­man of the Se­nate Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, con­ferred with Chair­man Richard Burr, North Carolina Repub­li­can, as the panel ques­tioned top na­tional se­cu­rity chiefs in a hear­ing Wed­nes­day about the gath­er­ing of in­tel­li­gence on for­eign agents.

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