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

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingDrama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry Warner, Burr split on committee findings on collusion Overnight Defense: Top general wasn't consulted on Syria withdrawal | Senate passes bill breaking with Trump on Syria | What to watch for in State of the Union | US, South Korea reach deal on troop costs 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 CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsEx-Trump official says intel community's testimony interfered in US-North Korea talks Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? Intel agencies' threat assessment matters more than tiff with Trump 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 Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona 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 Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems aim to block use of defense funds for wall | Watchdog issues new warning on Syria withdrawal | Trump wants to 'watch Iran' from Iraq Senate Dems introduce bill to block Trump from using military funds to build wall Puerto Rico statehood supporters pin hopes on House action MORE (D-N.M.) cut off Rosenstein by saying, “At this point you filibuster better than most of my colleagues.”

Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Drama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry Cohen to testify before three congressional panels before going to prison 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.