Toward the beginning his confirmation hearing on Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was asked about a report that President Trump sought to have him and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats intervene in the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) began his questioning by asking Pompeo about a June 6, 2017 report in the Washington Post headlined, “Top intelligence official told associates Trump asked him if he could intervene with Comey on FBI Russia probe.”
The report details a March 22, 2017 White House meeting between Trump and intelligence officials. At the conclusion of the meeting, Trump asked “everyone to leave the room” except for Coats and Pompeo. Trump then reportedly pressured Coats and Pompeo to intervene in the investigation, the existence of which had just been publicly confirmed by Comey two days earlier.
The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.
After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.
While the Post doesn’t detail exactly what Trump said to Coats and Pompeo, the president’s use of one intelligence agency to curtail an investigation into his campaign being handled by another could constitute obstruction of justice.
During the confirmation hearing on Thursday, Menendez noted that the report “strongly suggests that the president asked you and Director Coats to interfere with then-FBI director Comey’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s contact with Russia.”
“What did President Trump say to you and Director Coats in that meeting?” Menendez asked.
Pompeo’s response did not make much sense. He began by saying that while he was “not going to talk about the conversations the president and I had,” the report’s “suggestion that [Trump] asked me to do anything that was improper is false.”
But when Menendez pressed Coats on about what exactly Trump said, Pompeo claimed to have a convenient lapse of memory about a conversation at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump for obstruction of justice.
“Senator, I don’t recall — I don’t recall what he asked me that day precisely, but I have to tell you, I’m with the president an awful lot — he’s never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper.”
During another part of Menendez’s questioning, Pompeo confirmed that he’s spoken with Mueller, but he declined to detail what they talked about.
Pompeo’s confirmation came a day after Trump casually admitted to committing to obstructing justice on Twitter.
While the president suggested he was justified in doing so because he only did it to “fight back,” there is no “fighting back” exception to obstruction of justice charges, which were part of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.