Democrats furious at evasive answers from intelligence chiefs at hearing

Rogers was responding to a senator's question about whether President Donald Trump asked him to intervene in or downplay the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia's election meddling and possible ties with the Trump campaign.

National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will also be present at the hearing originally set to discuss a foreign surveillance law.

"In the three-plus years that I have been the director of the National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, unethical, immoral or inappropriate", Rogers said, adding that he has never felt "pressured" to do so. A frustrated Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has asked for such an estimate for several years, said Coats "went back on a pledge".

Both men said they have never felt pressured from Trump's administration to intervene in investigations into Russian meddling into the U.S. election, contradicting reports that the President had previously asked them to downplay the probe.

McCabe refused to answer, saying he did not want to "step into the lane" of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who was appointed on 17 May to investigate Russian efforts to skew the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favour.

Hours after Trump announced via Twitter that former Justice Department official Christopher Wray was his choice to head up the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee hit a brick wall as they probed allegations that Comey's oversight of the Russian probe lay at the root of his sacking last month.

Coats was testifying Wednesday before the Senate intelligence committee.

But both Coats and Rogers also said they wouldn't publicly reveal more specifics of private conversations they had with Trump.

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe refused to answer questions about whether Comey told him about his discussions with Trump, including whether Trump asked Comey to pledge loyalty to the president. Trump fired Comey in May.

Comey was overseeing the criminal probe into Trump associates' interactions with Russian officials, including Trump's first choice for national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The only silver lining for the Trump White House may be the formal focus of the hearing: re-authorization of legislation that allows for surveillance of foreign officials, an issue at the center of Trump's own tweets against the Russian Federation investigations. "There could be other skeletons that come out that he's not even aware of, and that's one of the big fears in the White House right now", said McKay Coppins of The Atlantic.

When pressured on whether they would answer questions on those conversations in a closed, classified hearing later Wednesday, Rogers and Coats both said they would have to consult White house lawyers as to whether Trump's "executive privilege" powers would prevent them from answering.

Comey will testify before the committee Thursday on conversations he had with Trump before his firing.

King: Then why are you not answering?

  • Joanne Flowers