Another account of President Donald Trump attempting to push back on the investigation of his campaign’s ties to the Russian government emerged Monday evening, as The Washington Post reported that the president asked two top intelligence officials to deny any evidence of collusion.
According to the report, Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers to publicly deny that there is any evidence of connections between Trump’s team and Russia. Those requests reportedly came in late March, after then-FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his bureau was looking into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Coats and Rogers reportedly rejected the requests.
The Post also said that White House officials sought to influence Comey directly:
In addition to the requests to Coats and Rogers, senior 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, Trump’s former national security adviser, according to people familiar with the matter. The officials said the White House appeared uncertain about its power to influence the FBI.
“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 White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement emailed to HuffPost in response to the Post article. “The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people.”
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Coats declined to comment on the report.
“It’s not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that,” he said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the report raised “troubling” possibilities:
The Post’s article is the latest in a series of revelations indicating that Trump and his associates have sought to intervene in the FBI’s Russia probe.
The cascade of news began May 9, when Trump fired Comey, at first citing his conduct during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Trump later said he considered the Russia investigation while weighing Comey’s future at the Justice Department.
One week later, multiple news outlets reported that Trump had asked Comey during a private meeting on Feb. 14 to stop the investigation of Flynn, whom Trump had fired the day before.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president said to Comey, according to notes Comey reportedly wrote soon after the meeting.
That revelation sparked concern on both sides of the aisle, and some Democrats raised the possibility that the president’s request could constitute obstruction of justice.
On Thursday, the Justice Department announced it was appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump attacked the appointment on Twitter, calling the investigation “the single greatest witch hunt” in U.S. political history.
And on Friday, the The New York Times reported that Trump had described Comey as a “nut job” to Russian officials visiting the White House earlier this month, telling them that firing the FBI director eased “great pressure” on the Russia investigation.
The same day, The Washington Post reported that the FBI is also investigating a current White House official in connection with the Russia probe, in addition to several former campaign officials.
Amid all this, Trump and the White House have denied any wrongdoing and have argued the investigation is detrimental to the country.
“I believe it hurts our country terribly because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country,” Trump said Thursday. “And we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it’s trade deals, whether it’s military, whether it’s stopping nuclear ― all of the things that we discussed today. And I think this shows a very divided country.”
This article has been updated with Coats’ statement from a Tuesday Senate committee hearing.