Top law enforcement and intelligence officials confirmed President Donald Trump asked them to say publicly there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
That’s the main takeaway from an important CNN report this morning, where multiple sources said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, told special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and Senate investigators that Trump had made the request.
Even on its own, the report would be a big deal. But it’s also part of a pattern of reports about Trump trying to get involved in federal investigations. In this case, he wanted public exoneration on the collusion issue before the investigation was even finished. In another, he asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for making false statements to the FBI.
On June 7, both Coats and Rogers testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee and were asked pointed questions about whether Trump had asked them to interfere in the probe. On June 6, the Washington Post had reported Coats told his colleagues Trump asked him to intervene directly with Comey about the Flynn investigation (which the new CNN report does not confirm).
But in their testimony, Coats and Rogers refused to answer any questions about their conversations with Trump. In fact, Rogers made an adamant statement, claiming he hadn’t felt like anything inappropriate had occurred.
NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers: "I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate" pic.twitter.com/vXF0Wqj2hU— CNN (@CNN) June 7, 2017
But in private, it appears Coats and Rogers were more candid with investigators. They noted the president’s ask was definitely out of the ordinary, but did not feel his request was an order.
So it’s another data point in the ongoing saga of the Trump-Russia investigation — and it could feature prominently when the investigations are concluded.
This only adds to Trump’s problems
Last week, the Washington Post reported that Mueller’s team is looking into whether or not Trump obstructed justice when he fired Comey. After all, Trump himself said he decided to fire Comey because of the Russia probe, and Comey had yet to deliver on dropping the Flynn investigation. Trump had not been under investigation until he let Comey go.
The president still doesn’t believe this whole story. He claimed today it’s all a hoax and an excuse created by Democrats for losing the election.
...Why did Democratic National Committee turn down the DHS offer to protect against hacks (long prior to election). It's all a big Dem HOAX!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2017
But just yesterday, FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Bill Priestap told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia tried to influence the election by helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. That was also the assessment of three government agencies back in January.
So the fact that Russia tried to help Trump win is real. Whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign is still undetermined — but that’s what investigators are trying to find out. It only makes Trump’s problems worse when new reports come out that he’s trying to derail the probes.