Intel chief quiet on whether Trump asked him to deny Russia evidence

Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Grenell asks top intel official to remain in role amid lawmaker concerns John Ratcliffe back under consideration by Trump for top intel job MORE is refusing to comment publicly on a report that President Trump asked him to push back on the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference, saying doing so would be inappropriate.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump appealed to Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers separately to publicly deny that any evidence exists of collusion between Russia and his campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

Coats was asked about the report Tuesday during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He declined to comment publicly but said that any “political shaping” of intelligence would be inappropriate. 

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“I have always believed, given the nature of my position and the information which [the president and I] share, it’s not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that,” Coats said in response to questioning from Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain says Steyer should drop out: 'I hate that guy' Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman MORE (R-Ariz.). 

Trump reportedly made the requests after then-FBI Director James Comey publicly revealed the existence of the bureau’s investigation into Russian election interference, which includes exploring any links between Trump campaign associates and Russia. 

Coats and Rogers both reportedly declined to comply with the requests, having deemed them inappropriate. 

McCain asked Coats whether the Post report, which cited current and former officials, was “accurate.” 

“I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president,” Coats answered.

Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Democrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban MORE (D-R.I.) later pressed Coats on the report, asking him to address the hypothetical of such a request being made by a commander in chief. Coats asserted firmly his belief that any “political shaping” of intelligence would be inappropriate.

“I made it clear in my confirmation hearing … that my role and the role of the DNI is to provide intelligence information relevant to policy makers,” Coats said. 

“Any political shaping of that presentation or intelligence would not be appropriate. I have made my position clear on that to the administration, and I intend to maintain that position.”

Later, in response to questioning from Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives MORE (D-N.Y.), Coats indicated that he would provide information about his discussions with Trump to the Senate Intelligence Committee if called to testify as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling. 

“I do believe that the information and discussions I’ve had with the president are something that should not be disclosed," Coats said. "On the other hand, if I'm called before an investigative committee, I will certainly provide them with what I know and what I don’t know." 

Coats further pledged to be "forthcoming" with information to former FBI chief Robert Mueller, who has been named special counsel by the Justice Department to oversee the investigation into Russian election interference.