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Trump asked top spy chiefs to counter Russia allegations, they turned him down

Critics of Trump have called these requests by the US President, along with his dismissal of FBI director James Comey, as attempts to force agencies reporting to him to shut down the Russia probe.

world Updated: May 23, 2017 20:09 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump,director of national intelligence Dan Coats,national security agency head Mike Rogers
Trump’s pith to Coats and Rogers appears to have been to discredit the FBI probe.(AFP)

US President Donald Trump is reported to have asked his top intelligence chiefs to dispute allegations of collusion between his campaign aides and Russia in the 2016 elections, a revelation that could provide more ammunition to those arguing for a case of obstruction of justice against him.

Trump reportedly asked his director of national intelligence Dan Coats and national security agency head Mike Rogers to push back against the allegations after former FBI director James Comey flagged them at a Congressional hearing in March. Both turned him down, according to US media reports, as they believed the request to be inappropriate.

Written contemporaneous notes of the request by Rogers’ office might be turned over to special counsel Robert Mueller, appointed recently to head the FBI’s Russia probe.

Trump had also asked Comey to end the FBI probe against Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser he fired for lying about his contacts with Russians. Comey refused, and his contemporaneous notes — a legally admissible evidence — of that conversation could be headed for Muller’s table as well.

Critics of Trump have called these requests by the president, along with his dismissal of Comey, as attempts to force agencies reporting to him to shut down the Russia probe that has caused his young presidency crippling and continuing damage.

Trump’s pith to Coats and Rogers appears to have been to discredit the FBI probe. “The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,” a former senior intelligence official told the Washington Post, which first reported these requests.

The White House said in a statement it “does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals … (and) … the president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people.”

The Russia controversy continues unabated in Trump’s absence with the daily dribble of new developments and revelations, some of which were contributed by the president himself, like when he confirmed Israel was the source of the classified information he shared with Russians officials.

Just minutes before this unintended admission in Jerusalem, the Russia story was back in the spotlight after reports stated Flynn will decline to testify before a Congressional committee, invoking the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees protections against self-incrimination.

First Published: May 23, 2017 14:47 IST