A few days after FBI Director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill in March, confirming that the agency was investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers got a call from the president of the United States.
Donald Trump asked Rogers if he could publicly state that there was no evidence of collusion, the Washington Post reported on Monday in the latest revelation in the unfolding scandals surrounding Trump.
Rogers was floored by the request. Not only are national security agencies supposed to be insulated from partisan politics, but Trump appeared to be asking Rogers to both comment on an ongoing investigation and say something that Rogers couldn’t know was true. Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima report:
In his call with Rogers, Trump urged the NSA director to speak out publicly if there was no evidence of collusion, according to officials briefed on the exchange.
Rogers was taken aback but tried to respectfully explain why he could not do so, the officials said. For one thing, he could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Rogers added that he would not talk about classified matters in public.
Trump also tried to get Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to publicly knock down allegations of ties between his campaign and Russia. And White House officials asked for help from the two top intelligence officials to pressure Comey to close the Russia probe.
“Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?” one official said of the line of questioning from the White House, the Post reported.
All three requests were denied, but the revelations provide additional evidence that the White House actively sought to undermine the FBI investigation into Russia — this time by pressuring national security officials.
Trump has not reacted normally to the Russia probe
These latest disclosures aren’t the first sign that Trump has sought to rebuff investigations into his campaign’s ties with Russia, and into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, at nearly every turn.
Trump first asked Comey to drop the investigation. “I hope you can let this go,” the president told Comey, according to a memo written by Comey and read to the New York Times. After the Washington Post report today, we know he later asked other top intelligence officials to discredit the ongoing investigations or pressure Comey to end them.
When those attempts didn’t work, the president decided to fire Comey on May 9. Trump has now admitted that part of the explanation for Comey’s ouster was the FBI director’s investigation into Russia. “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” he told NBC’s Lester Holt.
Then Trump may have reacted even more unfavorably to news that the Justice Department had appointed a special counsel to probe his campaign’s ties to Russia, putting out a statement that didn’t directly challenge the legitimacy of the appointee, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, but said the conclusion of the investigation was predetermined and essentially pointless. (Previous presidents have welcomed special prosecutors’ investigations and vowed the White House’s cooperation; Trump did neither.)
Trump’s outrage later boiled over into public view, when he called the Russia probe part of the “single greatest witch hunt” in American history:
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
And now it turns out that Trump’s efforts to interfere with the investigation go back even before the decision to fire Comey. We’ll have to wait to see if Mueller’s investigation finds that Trump’s actions amount to an obstruction of justice that at least some law experts believe is a federal crime.