Senator blasts NSA chief: ‘What you feel isn’t relevant, admiral’

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingAngus King: No one knows what healthcare plan Senate will consider Week ahead: Senate defense bill faces delay Trump ally LePage may run for Senate in Maine MORE (I-Maine) snapped at the head of the National Security Agency (NSA) in a contentious moment of a Senate hearing on Wednesday that delved into questions over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

King, known as one of the Senate’s more genial members, reached a breaking point more than an hour into the hearing after Michael Rogers repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether President Trump tried to interfere in the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s actions and possible collusion with his campaign.

Rogers declined to answer questions about reports of his interactions with Trump throughout the morning, telling a visibly frustrated King that he didn’t feel it was appropriate.

“What you feel isn’t relevant, admiral,” King said back at the NSA chief.

Later, when Rogers said he did not mean for his answer to King's question to sound confrontational, King said he did mean to sound confrontational.

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It wasn’t the only showdown during King’s five-minute round of questioning, as he repeatedly pressed Rogers, National Intelligence Director Dan CoatsDan CoatsOvernight Cybersecurity: Kushner says no collusion, improper contacts with Russia | House poised to vote on Russia sanctions | U.S., Japan to beef up cyber cooperation Trump intel chief: No agencies dispute Russian election meddling Obama intel chief wonders if Trump is trying to make 'Russia great again' MORE, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on the legal justification for their silence.

“Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation of executive privilege?” King demanded. “I’m not satisfied with, ‘I do not believe it’s appropriate’ or ‘I do not believe I should answer.’ ”

“I’m not sure I have a legal basis,” Coats said at one point, adding that he would provide as much information as he was able behind closed doors.

Rogers indicated that while he and Coats have had conversations with the White House about a potential claim of executive privilege, he said that they had not gotten a definitive answer.

McCabe and Rosenstein both cited the ongoing federal investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, arguing that it is longstanding Justice Department procedure not to discuss anything that might be under active investigation.

“I don’t understand why the special counsel’s lane takes precedence over the lane of the United States Congress,” King said.

At issue was whether any of the officials had any evidence that Trump may have inappropriately attempted to curtail the FBI's investigation.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Trump had asked Coats to intervene with then-FBI Director James Comey to limit the probe.

Both Coats and Rogers denied feeling pressured by Trump to intervene in the handling of intelligence in any inappropriate way but refused to answer specific questions about their interactions with the president.

“I’m willing to come before the committee and tell you what I know and don’t know,” Coats said. “What I’m not willing to do is share information I think ought to be protected in an opening hearing.”

In a clear sign of the level of frustration in the room, Democrats repeatedly interrupted and talked over officials’ claims that they couldn’t respond to certain lines of questioning. The argumentative exchanges on more than one occasion prompted Sen. John McCainJohn McCainCanada responds to transgender ban: All are welcome to join Canadian forces Dems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill GOP senator: Trump transgender ban ‘deserves more than a Twitter conversation’ MORE (R-Ariz.) to grab his microphone and request that witnesses be allowed to answer.

In a previous and equally tense moment, Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichNew legislation tells fourth graders to take a hike Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity The Memo: Five takeaways from Jeff Sessions’s testimony MORE (D-N.M.) cut off Rosenstein by saying, “At this point you filibuster better than most of my colleagues.”

Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrKushner says he did not collude with Russia, had no improper contacts Dems slam Trump for 'stonewalling' oversight efforts Burr: Nunes 'created' unmasking allegations against Rice MORE (R-N.C.), clearly aggravated, eventually intervened. “The committee is on notice,” he snapped, pointing a finger and demanding that members “provide the witnesses the courtesy” to respond.

Comey is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence panel on Thursday in what may be the most highly anticipated congressional hearing since the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Anita Hill, who had accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.