President Donald Trump reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to enlist Admiral Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, and Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, to publicly refute the possibility of collusion after former FBI Director James Comey announced in March that the bureau is investigating potential links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government, according to The Washington Post on Monday.
Citing unnamed government officials, the Post’s Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima report that Trump asked Coats and Rogers “to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.” But, according to the report, the intelligence officials turned down the ask, “which they both deemed to be inappropriate.” The White House told the Post that it would not confirm or deny the allegations.
The news follows a series of potentially damaging reports centered on Trump and the former FBI director. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Trump asked Comey to halt a federal investigation into his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who was ousted from the administration after making false claims about his contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and that Trump had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Comey to pledge loyalty prior to abruptly firing him on May 9th. The White House disputes both reports.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department to serve as a special counsel in the Russia investigation earlier this month. CNN reported on Monday that Mueller has already been briefed on memos drafted by Comey detailing his interactions with Trump. Monday’s Post report suggests there may be an even more extensive paper trail that could come under scrutiny as part of the investigation.
According to the Post:
Trump’s conversation with Rogers was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to the officials. It is unclear if a similar memo was prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to document Trump’s conversation with Coats. Officials said such memos could be made available to both the special counsel now overseeing the Russia investigation and congressional investigators, who might explore whether Trump sought to impede the FBI’s work.
Congressional Democrats have accused Trump of obstructing justice following reports that he attempted to intervene in the Flynn investigation and another Times report that Trump told Russian officials that he felt relieved of pressure caused by the Russia inquiry after firing Comey.
The Post’s report on Monday also contends that White House officials “sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn.”
When Trump fired Comey, he originally cited a memo criticizing the FBI chief’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. He later openly acknowledged in an interview with NBC News that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he made the decision to fire Comey, who at the time had been serving as the head of the bureau probing ties between Trump associates and the Russian government.
The White House has insisted that there is no evidence of collusion. And Trump flatly denied the possibility at a press conference last week, saying “there was no collusion” with Russia. In the letter the president sent to Comey telling him he had been fired, Trump wrote that he had “greatly appreciate[d]” the FBI director “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
Despite Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, Democrats have continued to urge the formation of an independent commission to further probe the extent of Russian involvement in the election. Those calls, and the pressure on Congress to support such a move, may grow louder now.