WASHINGTON — The top U.S. intelligence official told associates in March that President Donald Trump asked him if he could assist in getting former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of its Russia probe, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
After a briefing at the White House attended by officials from several government agencies, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, according to the Post.
The president then complained about Comey’s handling of the FBI investigation, officials familiar with Coats’ account told the paper.
The sources said Coats concluded after the meeting that Trump’s suggestion that he intervene with Comey’s investigation would be inappropriate.
Coats, who was testifying before the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday morning, denied he felt pressured when asked about the Post report.
“I have never felt pressured to intervene in the Russia investigation in any way,” he said.
He added he did not feel it was appropriate for him to discuss confidential information at the hearing.
“For intelligence-related matters or any other matter that has been discussed, it is my belief that it is inappropriate for me to share that with the public,” Coats said.
It was previously reported that Trump asked Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers to publicly deny evidence of cooperation between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
Comey, who will testify before Congress on Thursday, reportedly wrote a memo saying Trump asked him to back off investigating Flynn. The testimony will stream live on KDVR.com.
Trump has since said he was considering “this Russia thing” in his decision to fire Comey.
In his much-anticipated testimony, Comey is expected to dispute Trump’s interpretation of their conversations, sources familiar with Comey’s thinking have said.
Trump has made a blanket claim that Comey told him multiple times that he was not under investigation.
But a source said Comey is expected to explain that those were much more nuanced conversations from which Trump concluded that he was not under investigation.
Another source has said the president might have misunderstood the exact meaning of Comey’s words, especially regarding the FBI’s ongoing counterintelligence investigation.