President Donald Trump asked two high-ranking intelligence officials to publicly deny allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the election reports the Washington Post, citing “current and former officials.”
According the Post’s sources, who were granted anonymity, the president asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to publicly deny any evidence existed that the campaign colluded with Russia. The conversations apparently happened in March, after then–FBI director James Comey had told the House Intelligence Committee that officials were investigating links and alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Coats and Rogers apparently each rejected those request on the grounds it would be inappropriate.
The sources also tell reporters that a senior NSA official kept a record of the conversation between Trump and Rogers — leaving a paper trail that could be discoverable to investigators on the Russia case — but the report does not clarify whether a parallel Coats memo exists. If the Rogers memo is real, the paper trail on the president’s efforts to evade scrutiny is growing very long; Comey is also believed to have filed a memo about a conversation with Trump during which the president attempted to squash an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia links.
Obstruction of justice
With this latest report, evidence mounts that the president himself has repeatedly taken steps to stop or interfere with an ongoing investigation into his close affiliates and their ties to Russian officials. The investigation is now in the hands of an independent investigator: Robert Mueller, former FBI director, is leading the probe as special counselor.
In several cases, the president has publicly made statements that point to willful interference into the investigation. He memorably threatened Comey on Twitter immediately after reports came out that Trump had asked him to swear loyalty despite an ongoing investigation. Comey declined.
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump himself admitted he fired Comey from the FBI with the Russia investigation on his mind. Then Trump reportedly bragged to Russian officials in the White House — one of whom is believed to a top intelligence operative for Russia — that he was having success shaking the investigation, especially after he fired Comey.
Officials loyal to Trump have also apparently joined in the effort to obstruct an going investigation, often at the president’s direct urging, according to reports. In several cases, these political loyalists have remained in charge of investigative procedures while publicly backing up the man whose advisors are under investigation. Trump reportedly asked Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) — one of the officials charged with gathering evidence for the Senate investigation — to call reporters in an attempt to minimize reports of contact between Trump officials and Russian intelligence agents. Burr made the calls.
In the other chamber of Congress, the president reportedly asked House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) to also call reporters to help minimize the Russia story. Nunes complied. Nunes also backed up Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped him. According to those same reports, Trump made the same request of FBI officials.
Officials within the White House, with regular direct access to the president, have followed orders to tamp down the Russia investigation. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reportedly contacted the FBI to request officials publicly dispute reports of communications between White House or campaign officials and Russian intelligence.
At this point, even in the unlikely scenario that the Russia investigation turns up nothing that warrants any kind of censure, the very act of interference constitutes an impeachable offense. Presidents Nixon and Clinton both faced charges of obstruction of justice in their impeachment proceedings.
The president dismisses any inquiry into links between his campaign or advisors: it’s a witch hunt, unfair, and fake news, according to the president. If reports are to be believed, however, he remains extremely spooked about the investigation — and reporting on the growing scandal — going any further than it already has.