WASHINGTON – Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats had to tell President Donald Trump in 2017 that it was not his job to get involved in FBI investigations.
When Mike Pompeo was Trump’s first CIA director, Trump complained to him multiple times that no one would publicly defend him in the Russia investigation.
And Adm. Michael Rogers, who headed the National Security Agency in 2017, was so concerned about Trump’s request to refute news stories linking him to Russia that he documented the exchange. Rogers’ deputy director described Trump’s call as the most unusual thing he’d experienced in 40 years of government service.
Those details from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report offer a behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s often fraught relationship with the leaders of the intelligence community. Trump took office voicing skepticism about the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered to help him win the White House.
After FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed March 20, 2017 that his agency was investigating possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, Trump leaned on other intelligence community leaders for help.
Trump fired Comey less than two months later, telling the Russia foreign minister the next day that he “faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off…. I’m not under investigation.”
Rogers retired last year. Pompeo is now Trump’s secretary of state. Coats is still advising Trump, but he’s had several public conflicts with the president that have led to speculation about whether he will remain in the job.
Trump’s request of Coats
Coats didn’t go as far as some of his aides did in describing to Mueller’s team his interactions with Trump about the Russia investigation.
Coats told the special counsel that Trump never asked him to talk to Comey – though he did ask Coats to publicly say there was no link between Trump and Russia.
But that’s not how some of Coats’ aides remember it.
The key event was a March 22, 2017 Oval Office meeting that included Trump, Coats and Pompeo.
Michael Dempsey, a Coats aide, remembers Coats saying after the meeting that Trump asked him to contact Comey to see if there was a way to end the Russia investigation. Dempsey said Coats made it clear that he would not get involved with an ongoing FBI investigation.
Another aide told the special counsel that Coats was upset after the meeting because Trump wanted him to convince Comey there was nothing to the Russia investigation. A third aide said Coats told him that the president asked what he could do to “help with the investigation.”
Three days after the Oval office meeting, Trump again complained to Coats in a phone call. Coats said he told the president that the investigations were going to go on and the best thing to do was to let them run their course.
When Rogers got a similar call from Trump, the president complained that the investigation was messing up his ability to get things done with Russia. Trump asked Rogers if he could do anything to refute the news stories, according to the report.
Both Coats and Rogers later testified before Congress that they had not felt pressured by Trump to do what he wanted.
‘Does not exonerate’ Trump
Pompeo told investigators that he didn’t remember the March 22 meeting but did recall that Trump regularly urged officials to get the word out that he had not done anything wrong related to Russia.
Their interactions with Trump are some of the facts laid out by Mueller’s team in their report on whether Trump committed a crime by obstructing the Russia investigation. While the special counsel did not charge Trump, his office pointedly declined to say that it had cleared the president of wrongdoing, writing instead that the report “also does not exonerate him.”
In this instance, Mueller concluded that the evidence did not establish that Trump asked or directed the intelligence agency leaders to interfere with the FBI’s investigation. But Trump’s intent in reaching out to Coats, Pompeo and Rogers is still relevant to understand what motivated Trump’s other actions, the office says.
It’s one of the pieces of “substantial evidence,” the report lists that indicates Trump tried to have Mueller removed because he knew he was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.
Mueller wasn’t fired, however, because White House counsel Don McGahn decided he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre, a reference to former President Richard Nixon firing prosecutors during the Watergate investigation.
“The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that was largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report said. “Consistent with that pattern, the evidence we obtained would not support potential obstruction of justice charges against the president’s aides and associates beyond those already filed.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mueller report reveals how Donald Trump leaned on his intelligence chiefs over Russia probe