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Coats says Russia ‘definitely did try to influence’ U.S. election during confirmation hearing

WASHINGTON – Former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats arrived on Capitol Hill Tuesday, appearing before a familiar committee but sitting in an unfamiliar spot.

Coats, who sat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, faced probing questions from his former colleagues during his official confirmation hearing to become the nation’s fifth director of national intelligence, charged with coordinating the nation’s intelligence gathering and serve as a key adviser to the president.

“As I will say frequently to both the president and to the executive branch, you need to fully understand my role,” Coats said. “And my role is to provide you the intelligence to formulate policy, not formulate policy, not be a spokesperson for any political decisions that are made. Yes I have made this clear. I will continue to make this clear.”

Lawmakers voicing concern questioned Coats numerous times about whether President Trump would include the role as a principal member of the National Security Committee. The role previously under the Obama administration had been included and granted access to meetings. A recent executive order signed by President Trump left the director of national security off that list.

“I have been reassured time and time and time again from the president to his advisers that I’m welcome and needed and expected to be part of the principals committee,” Coats said. “It’s essential to the process.”

Coats also faced tough questions on potential Russian interference in U.S. elections and was pointedly asked if he would support the committee’s investigation into the matter.

“Do you promise to fully and completely cooperate with the committee’s investigation of the Russian election hacking?” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) asked Coats.

“I think this is something that needs to be investigated and addressed,” Coats said.

In further questioning from lawmakers Coats added, “I think it’s publicly known and acknowledged and accepted that Russia definitely did try to influence the campaign. To what extent they were successful, I don’t think we know.”

Coats was warmly greeted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) before Tuesday’s committee hearing, which eventually went into closed session to discuss sensitive national security matters.

Coats, which Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Co.) recently told the New York Times was ‘the closest thing to Mister Rogers we would come up with’ in the Senate was asked whether he had the backbone to lead the nation’s intelligence agencies and present the president with dire information on the nation’s looming threat of terror.

“I’m not sure likability and affability are the qualities I want in this position,” Sen. Angus King (D-Maine) said. “I want somebody who is crusty, mean and tough.”

Coats said he understood the lawmakers concern.

“Given the situation we are facing worldwide in terms of these threats, we don’t have time to just be the nice guy,” he said.

Both U.S. Senators from Indiana, Republican Todd Young and Democrat Joe Donnelly, said they are eager to vote for Coats’ confirmation when it comes before the full Senate.