Coats declines to comment on report Trump asked him to deny evidence of Russia collusion

Dan Coats (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON– Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to comment Tuesday on the report that President Donald Trump asked him to publicly deny evidence of cooperation between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

“I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the President,” Coats told the Senate armed services committee in response to a question about the allegations from Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

But Coats did say that politicizing intelligence was inappropriate — and that he’d made that position clear to the Trump administration.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the panel, asked Coats hypothetically whether it would be appropriate if a president reached out to a director of national intelligence to make a request to deny evidence of cooperation.

“I made clear in my confirmation hearing for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, my role and the role of the director of national intelligence is to provide intelligence information relevant to policy makers so they can base their judgments on that,” Coats said. “Any political shaping of that presentation for intelligence would not be appropriate. I have made my position clear on that to this administration and I intend to maintain that position.”

On Monday, multiple current and former US officials confirmed to CNN the account that Trump made the request of Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers after then-FBI Director James Comey revealed in March that the bureau had launched a probe into alleged collusion. The account was first reported in The Washington Post. Both officials declined the request.

Coats told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, he did not think it was appropriate for his conversations with the President to be disclosed, but said he would share what he knew if he is asked to testify by the House or Senate intelligence committees.

“I do believe that the information and discussions that 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 certainly will provide them with what I know and what I don’t know.”

Coats also criticized the stream of leaks from the intelligence community, saying they “played a very significant negative role” to national security.

“Lives are at stake in many instances, and leaks jeopardize those lives,” he said.

Rogers is also scheduled to testify later Tuesday.