As President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence and former FBI director prepare to go before the Senate Intelligence Committee, new reports detail the White House’s alleged attempt to meddle with independent investigations into allegations of Russian collusion—raising anticipation over what these hearings may reveal.
In the first, published by the Washington Post on Tuesday, officials claimed that Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James Comey’s Russia probe, specifically the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The request came just two days after Comey publicly acknowledged in a congressional hearing that an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin was taking place.
Coats had been on the job less than one week when, on March 22, the president reportedly called him in for a private White House briefing with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
After allegedly discussing with colleagues the commander-in-chief’s extraordinary proposal to subvert the Bureau’s ongoing investigation, however, Coats reportedly decided to reject it as inappropriate.
In the days that followed, Trump allegedly phoned Coats and NSA Director Mike Rogers to request they issue a public statement saying that there was no evidence to tie his campaign to Russia. Both men declined the president’s wishes.
Although Coats has denied that he felt pressured by the president to comply, further details of these interactions are likely to surface in Coats’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
All the above had taken place after Trump’s more direct approach had failed in February, when he allegedly attempted to dissuade the FBI director from pursuing the probe into Flynn’s Russian connection—an incident which contextualizes the second explosive revelation published Tuesday.
The New York Times reported in May on a memo made by Comey that detailed a meeting in which Trump had asked the FBI chief to end the investigation of Flynn’s Russian connections.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to the memo.
On Tuesday, the Times further reported that following this meeting Comey wanted to avoid any inappropriate influence from the White House and asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ensure that he was not left alone with the president again—which Sessions refused to guarantee.
Comey was, of course, fired by Trump in early May, officially for his handling of a 2016 FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Political opponents, however, given Trump’s previously vocal support of Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe, believe that the former FBI director was dismissed for his refusal to drop the Russia investigation,
Comey is set to appear at a highly anticipated hearing before the same Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, the day after Coats’ testimony. It’s expected that Comey will be questioned intensely about these interactions and his persistence with the Russia probe—no doubt these new revelations will be given addressed too.