Trump 'asked intel chiefs to push back on FBI probe'

He urged them to deny evidence of collusion with Russia: Officials

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump asked two of the US' top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an investigation by the FBI into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

He made separate appeals to national intelligence director Daniel Coats and National Security Agency (NSA) director Michael Rogers, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during last year's election.

Both refused to comply as they deemed the requests to be inappropriate, said several officials, speaking anonymously.

The new revelations add to growing evidence that Mr Trump sought to co-opt and then undermine former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey before he fired him on May 9.

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Mr Trump approached Mr Coats and Admiral Rogers after Mr Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 20 that the FBI was probing "the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts".

Mr Trump's conversation with Adm Rogers was documented in an internal memo by a senior NSA official, according to the officials. It is unclear if a similar memo documented Mr Trump's conversation with Mr Coats. Officials said such memos could be made available to both the special counsel now overseeing the Russia investigation and congressional investigators.

White House officials say Mr Comey's testimony about the scope of the FBI probe upset Mr Trump, who has dismissed the FBI and congressional investigations as a "witch hunt" and repeatedly said there was no collusion.

Current and former officials said either Mr Trump lacks an understanding of the FBI's role as an independent law enforcement agency, or does not care about maintaining such boundaries.

Current and former intelligence officials view Mr Trump's requests as a bid to tarnish the credibility of the agency leading the Russia investigation.

One official said Mr Trump's goal was to "muddy the waters" about the scope of the FBI probe at a time when Democrats were ramping up calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, a step taken last week with the appointment of former FBI chief Robert Mueller.

Senior intelligence officials also saw the March requests as a threat to the independence of US spy agencies, which are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues.

In addition to the requests to Mr Coats and Adm Rogers, senior White House officials sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with Mr Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Mr Michael Flynn, Mr 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.

Current and former officials said either Mr Trump lacks an understanding of the FBI's role as an independent law enforcement agency, or does not care about maintaining such boundaries.

Mr Coats refused to comment on the report yesterday at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying: "I don't feel it's appropriate to characterise discussions with the President".

Like Mr Coats, Adm Rogers declined to make a public statement on the issue.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Trump 'asked intel chiefs to push back on FBI probe''. Print Edition | Subscribe