The Washington Post released a report last night detailing information that indicates President Trump and the Trump White House sought to persuade high ranking members of the intelligence community to influence former FBI Director James Comey, Jr., to close down its investigations on Russian influence in the 2016 Presidential campaign.
In the report, the Washington Post outlines that Trump, in March, asked the Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats and also Admiral Michael S. Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), to make statements to the effect that there exists no evidence showing collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
Rogers and Coats, according to 4 parties with knowledge of the incident – two of them currently serving within the intelligence agencies named, declined to take Trump up on his request, on the grounds that they considered it inappropriate and an intrusion into the proper role of intelligence gathering, especially given the fact that the FBI and its director were in the midst of an investigation.
“The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,” a former senior intelligence official said of the request to Coats.
The NSA and Brian Hale, a spokesman for Coats, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. The situation, however, has additional layers of potential illegalities. The Post was told that other top agency officials were probed as to their willingness to influence James Comey to drop the Flynn investigation.
“Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?” one official said of the nature of the questions coming from the White House. For its part the White House press office issued this statement in response
“The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals. The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people.”
Complicating matters for Trump and his administration however, is the fact that Admiral Rogers had a memo composed by a staff member documenting the conversation with Trump.
The WaPo journalists that wrote the report, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima also note that:
“Current and former officials said that Trump either lacks an understanding of the FBI’s role as an independent law enforcement agency or does not care about maintaining such boundaries. Trump’s effort to use the director of national intelligence and the NSA director to dispute Comey’s statement and to say there was no evidence of collusion echoes President Richard Nixon’s ‘unsuccessful efforts to use the CIA to shut down the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate break-in on national security grounds,’ said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel at the CIA. Smith called Trump’s actions ‘an appalling abuse of power.’”
As the perception inside and outside the White House increases that the evidence is stacking up, Trump is lawyering up. The Washington Post also reports that a search is underway to assemble a team of outside attorneys to help Trump navigate both the congressional investigations and the probe being conducted by newly appointed Special Counsel, Robert S. Mueller.