Democrats have attacked US intelligence officials for refusing to answer questions publicly about whether Donald Trump asked them to influence an investigation into whether the President's campaign advisers colluded with Russian officials.
In a contentious Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the National Security Agency (NSA), and Mr Trump’s intelligence director Dan Coats said they did not feel that it was appropriate to comment in an open session on classified conversations they have had with the President.
Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, asked on what legal basis the officials were not answering certain questions.
“I feel it is inappropriate, Senator,” Mr Rogers said.
“What you feel isn’t relevant, Admiral,” Mr King retorted.
Media outlets have reported that Mr Trump separately appealed to Mr Rogers and Mr Coats to downplay the Russia investigation. The President also reportedly asked the intelligence director if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James Comey to get the bureau to pull back its inquiry into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The hearing came a day before Mr Comey, fired by Mr Trump last month, is also set to openly testify before the Senate committee. Mr Comey is expected to reveal whether the President asked him to drop the bureau's probe into Mr Flynn.
Mr Flynn resigned in February after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US.
The White House has dismissed the memo as inaccurate.
Despite contending that they could not publicly discuss their interactions with the President, both Mr Rogers and Mr Coats said they had never felt pressured to intervene in an investigation. But they would not comment on whether Mr Trump had asked them to do so.
Mr King pushed back, asking for the legal basis for why the intelligence chiefs couldn't respond to this question. He also asked if it was because Mr Trump had invoked executive privilege.
Mr Rogers responded that the President had not.
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
1/11 Paul Manafort
Mr Manafort is a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign manager. He resigned from that post over questions about his extensive lobbying overseas, including in Ukraine where he represented pro-Russian interests.
2/11 Mike Flynn
Mr Flynn was named as Trump's national security adviser but was forced to resign from his post for inappropriate communication with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He had misrepresented a conversation he had with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, telling him wrongly that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian.
3/11 Sergey Kislyak
Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, is at the centre of the web said to connect President Donald Trump's campaign with Russia.
4/11 Roger Stone
Mr Stone is a former Trump adviser who worked on the political campaigns of Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Mr Stone claimed repeatedly in the final months of the campaign that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he knew the group was going to dump damaging documents to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - which did happen. Mr Stone also had contacts with the hacker Guccier 2.0 on Twitter, who claimed to have hacked the DNC and is linked to Russian intelligence services.
5/11 Jeff Sessions
The US attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation after it was learned that he had lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
6/11 Carter Page
Mr Page is a former advisor to the Trump campaign and has a background working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Mr Page met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr Page had invested in oil companies connected to Russia and had admitted that US Russia sanctions had hurt his bottom line.
7/11 Jeffrey "JD" Gorden
Mr Gordon met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republian National Convention to discuss how the US and Russia could work together to combat Islamist extremism should then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election. The meeting came days before a massive leak of DNC emails that has been connected to Russia.
8/11 Jared Kushner
Mr Kushner is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key adviser to the White House. He met with a Russian banker appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. Mr Kushner has said he did so in his role as an adviser to Mr Trump while the bank says he did so as a private developer. Mr Kushner has also volunteered to testify in the Senate about his role helping to arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
9/11 James Comey
Mr Comey was fired from his post as head of the FBI by President Donald Trump. The timing of Mr Comey's firing raised questions around whether or not the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign may have played a role in the decision.
10/11 Preet Bharara
Mr Bahara refused, alongside 46 other US district attorney's across the country, to resign once President Donald Trump took office after previous assurances from Mr Trump that he would keep his job. Mr Bahara had been heading up several investigations including one into one of President Donald Trump's favorite cable television channels Fox News. Several investigations would lead back to that district, too, including those into Mr Trump's campaign ties to Russia, and Mr Trump's assertion that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from his predecessor.
11/11 Sally Yates
Ms Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, was running the Justice Department while President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general awaited confirmation. Ms Yates was later fired by Mr Trump from her temporary post over her refusal to implement Mr Trump's first travel ban. She had also warned the White House about potential ties former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Russia after discovering those ties during the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.
Both Mr Rogers and Mr Coats – who said he didn’t know if he had a legal basis for not responding – asserted that they would be willing to answer senators’ questions more directly behind closed doors on Wednesday afternoon.
But the officials said that they would first check with legal counsel at the White House to make sure the President did not intend to invoke executive privilege.
Saying he was disappointed with the officials’ answers, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence committee, said there appears to be “a pattern where the President seems to want to intervene, downplay, or halt” the Russia investigations.
None of the officials testifying, which also included Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, were laying to rest media reports making those allegations.
“If he is even asked, that is a relevant piece of information,” Mr Warner said. “At some point these facts have to come out.”
Republicans Marco Rubio and John McCain also expressed frustration over the officials' refusal to answer certain questions.
When Mr McCain asked about a Washington Post article alleging that Mr Trump asked Mr Coats and Mr Rogers to push back on the Russia probe, Mr Coats responded that he's been around long enough to “not take everything at face value that’s printed in the Post.”
“Just because it's published in the Washington Post doesn't mean that it's unclassified,” Mr Coats says.
Mr Trump has repeatedly called the alleged connections between his campaign advisers and Russian operatives “fake news”.Reuse content