Intelligence Leaders Testify Before Senate Panel Hearing
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some of the nation's intelligence leaders are testifying before Congress today. They include the director of national intelligence, the head of the National Security Agency, the acting director of the FBI and the top Justice Department official overseeing the investigation of Russian interference in last year's presidential election. They're all up there. And much of the focus has been on reports alleging that President Trump tried to use the intelligence services to squash that Russia investigation.
NPR congressional reporter Scott Detrow is with us once again.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Busy day - what are you hearing?
DETROW: Well, the purpose of this hearing is not to get into this Russia investigation. It's actually about a really important law overseeing foreign intelligence surveillance and what happens when Americans are swept up in that, which is something we've heard a lot about. But the top Democrat on the committee, Mark Warner, said, you're all very relevant to this ongoing investigation we're doing, and while you are here, I'm going to ask about that. And that's something he got right into in his very first question with Dan Coats, the national intelligence director.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DAN COATS: I have never been pressured. I have never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship to an ongoing investigation.
MARK WARNER: All I'd say...
INSKEEP: That is pretty definitive. And does that not deny newspaper reports suggesting quite the opposite, that Dan Coats was pressured?
DETROW: Not quite because Mike Rogers said something similar, saying, I've never been directed to do anything illegal, immoral, inappropriate, and I don't recall feeling pressure to do so. But then Marco Rubio - Republican from Florida and, of course, one-time presidential candidate - pointed out that this was a little subjective, and he said, we're not asking for classified information. We're saying, were you ever asked? Maybe you didn't feel pressure, but were you asked the question?
INSKEEP: As opposed to being directed. And so what did Coats say then?
DETROW: He did not want to get into it in open session. He said, I'm not going to get into details of my conversations with the president in open session. He indicated he would be happy to talk to this committee in closed session or be happy to talk to Special Prosecutor Mueller. But he said, here in this open session, I'm not going to get into conversations with the president.
INSKEEP: OK, let's get this into the open here. The underlying question here, put out in a newspaper report, as often happens before someone testifies before Congress, was a suggestion that President Trump himself had asked Dan Coats to help intervene, in some way, with the FBI and get this Russia investigation changed or derailed or whatever the word would be. And you're telling me that Dan Coats didn't quite deny that, at least not in public.
DETROW: He did not want to get into the specifics of that particular story, and he stuck to the broad-scale, I have not felt pressure.
INSKEEP: Isn't all of this really just a preview, an opening act?
DETROW: Absolutely, because the other key conversation about pressure and ongoing investigations is the conversation that NPR and many other news outlets have reported that happened between President Trump and former FBI Director Jim Comey. Jim Comey will be in that chair tomorrow giving his side of that story. We know that Comey is someone who takes copious notes about these conversations, and I think everyone's expecting a lot more detail about what specifically President Trump asked or directed or pressured him to do.
INSKEEP: Scott, thanks very much.
DETROW: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.