Return to Transcripts main page


Intel Chiefs for not Answering Questions; Intel Chiefs: Never Felt Pressured to Sway Russia Probe; McCain Laments Lack of Answers in Committee Hearing. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: -- not publicly share what I thought were private conversations with the president of the United States. Most of them -- almost all of them, intelligence-related and classified. I didn't think it was appropriate to do so in an open -- for the "Post" to report what it reported or do that in an open session.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, it's an unfortunate situation that you're sitting there because it's classified information and this morning's "Washington Post" describes in some detail, not just outlined but times and dates and subjects that are being discussed. And I'm certainly not blaming you but it certainly is an interesting town in which we exist.

COATS: And just because it's published in the Washington Post doesn't mean it's now unclassified.

MCCAIN: But unfortunately, whether it's classified or not, it's now out to the world which is obviously not your fault. But describes dates and times and who met with whom and so -- well, do you want to tell us any more about the Russian involvement in our election that we don't already know from reading the Washington Post?

COATS: I don't think that's, that's a position that I'm in. I do know that there are ongoing investigations. I do know that we continue to provide all the relevant intelligence we have to enable those investigations to be carried out with integrity and with knowledge.

MCCAIN: Well, it must be a bit frustrating to you in protecting what is clearly sensitive information then to read all about it in the Washington Post. You have my sympathy and I expressed that at your confirmation hearing doubting your sanity. So, Admiral, you got anything to say about it?

ADMIRAL MIKE ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: No sir other than, boy, some days I sure I wish I was on the bridge of that destroyer again.

MCCAIN: I can understand that. I feel the same way. Mr. Rosenstein?

ROD ROSENSTEIN: DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator, I can't speak for anybody else but I'm proud to be here. I'm proud to be here with Director McCabe and I'm sure he feels the same way. ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I do.

MCCAIN: Whatever that might mean. Thank you Mr. Chairman.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks, Senator McCain. The chair is going to recognize Senator Wyden for one question on 702.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the courtesy. This one, Director Coats, I'd like a yes or no answer on. Can the government use FISA Act Section 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic?

COATS: Not to my knowledge. It would be against the law.

WYDEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURR: Senator Warner?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Again, I want to thank all the witnesses, but I come out of this hearing with more questions than when I went in. Gentlemen, you are both willing to somehow characterize your conversations with the president. You didn't feel pressure, but you wouldn't share the content.

In the case of Admiral Rogers, we will have independent third party that will at least provide some level of contemporaneous description of that conversation, and, obviously, why there was concerns enough to commit that to writing. I'm pretty frustrated that there is this deference to a special prosecutor, even though the special prosecutor has not talked to you. I'm concerned with the deputy attorney general also deference to the special prosecutor, but there doesn't seem to be in this committee, and the chairman and I have committed to making sure that we appropriately deconflict.

[12:35:00] What we don't seem to have is the same commitment to find out whether the president of the United States tried to intervene directly with leaders of our intelligence community and asked them to back off or downplay. You've testified to your feelings response candidly, your feelings response is important, but the content of his communication with you is absolutely critical. And I guess I would just say, the president's not above the law. If the president intervenes in a conversation and intervenes in an investigation like that, would that not be subject of some concern, Mr. Rosenstein?

ROSENSTEIN: Yes sir. If anybody obstructs a federal investigation, it would be a subject of concern. I don't care who they are, and I can commit to you, if you're looking for commitment from Mr. McCabe and from me, if there's any credible allegation that anybody seeks to obstruct a federal investigation, it will be investigated appropriately. Whether it's by Mr. McCabe, by me, by the special counsel, that's our responsibility and we'll see to it.

WARNER: Well, I thank the chairman for the fact that we've been working on this in a bipartisan way and we will ultimately have to get to the content of those conversations. Thank you. BURR: Director Coats, I know you have to go. Give me 90 more seconds, if I could. And this question probably to you, Admiral Rogers. Have our partners globally used 702 intelligence to stop a terrorist attack?

ROGERS: Yes sir, and if we were to lose a 702 authority, I would fully expect leaders from some of our closest allies to put out one loud scream.

BURR: And in most cases didn't they take credit for our intelligence?

ROGERS: They don't publicly talk about where it comes from, but we acknowledge NSA is a primary provider of insights.

BURR: I just want to get on the record. This is a global asset --


BURR: -- that the war on terror has is 702. Now --

COATS: Mr. Chairman, if I could just take the time you were trying to protect from my next appointment to just say, following -- and I just want to repeat, following my interaction with my contemporaries in a number of European countries, they are deeply, deeply grateful to us for the information derived from 702 has saved what they said literally hundreds of lives.

BURR: Well, certainly the committee is privy in those instances and lot of occasions and we're grateful for that. And gentlemen, I want to thank you for your testimony. But before we adjourn, I would ask each of you to take a message back to the administration.

You're in positions whereby you're required to keep this committee fully and currently informed of intelligence activities. In cases where the sensitivity of those activities would not be appropriate for the full committee or open session, there's a mechanism that you may use to brief the appropriate parties. It's sometimes often referred to as the "Gang of Eight" notification briefing. And I think without exception, everybody at the table has utilized that tool before.

Congressional Oversight of the Intelligence activities of our government is necessary and it must be robust. Thus, the provisions of this unique briefing mechanism, given the availability of that sensitive briefing avenue at no time should you be in a position where you come to Congress without an answer. It may be in a different format, but the requirements of our oversight duties and your agencies demand it.

With that, again, I thank you for being here. This hearing's adjourned.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King in Washington. Welcome to "Inside Politics." You just watched the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr gaveling to close a very important, more than 2 1/2 hour hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill. This hearing will be remembered more for what the witnesses refused to answer than what they did answer. The director of National Intelligence, the head of the National Security Agency, the deputy attorney general, and the acting head of the FBI. All witnesses all grilled about what they know about the Russian election meddling investigation. Specifically, what they know, were there efforts by President Trump to interfere in that investigation?

Before we bring in our panel for a conversation, I want to bring you one key moment right here. Early in the hearing, the ranking Democrat Mark Warner asking the director of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency, did the president of the United States ask you to either dismiss publicly or interfere with the FBI Director James Comey and get him to back off his investigation? Listen.


ROGERS: I have never been directed to do anything I believed to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.

COATS: I have never been pressured, I have never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way and shape with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship to an ongoing investigation.


[12:40:03] KING: The great group on hand here. We'll introduce them as we go around the table but Jeffrey Toobin, let me start with you. On the one hand, if you're the Trump White House, you run those answers and you print those answers and you say, see, they were never pressured by the president. But they were repeatedly subsequent to that, were you ever asked by the president. Did the president ever ask you to do anything? And they refused even though that's not classified, even thought they had agreed to testify at this hearing, they refused to answer whether the conversation took place or to describe it just saying we weren't pressured.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right. And that's why I think you saw a good deal of frustration particularly from the Democratic members because they -- both witnesses gave kind of generally exculpatory answers to questions that weren't really asked. I mean, they were not -- they didn't describe the conversations.

I mean, ultimately, what these hearings should be about is gathering evidence and the evidence is what was said. And they only provided their own conclusions. And what was especially irritating I think and understandably so, was they didn't really give a legal basis for their reasons to decline to answer. They didn't say, it's classified, it's not classified.

They didn't say that the White House had invoked executive privilege. They just said, we don't feel it's appropriate. Which -- and as several senators said, we don't really care about your feelings. What's your basis? And that's where frustration.

KING: Well, let's listen to more of that because Angus King who's an Independent but sides with the Democrats most often, a senator from Maine raised that very point essentially saying, you came here, we are the oversight committee, we are leading this investigation. And Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, he had told the Senate Armed Services Committee, I'm not going to talk about my president's conversations with the president in this setting but I will talk about them when I get over to the investigative setting but he refused. Here's the frustration voiced by Senator King.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Why are you not answering the questions? Is it an invocation of executive privilege? If there is, then let's know about it. If there isn't, answer the questions.

ROGERS: I stand by the comments I've made. I'm not interested in repeating myself sir. And I don't mean that in a contentious way.

KING: Well, I do mean it in a contentious way. I don't understand why you're not answering our questions.


KING: And he repeatedly asked, Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, Nia-Malika Henderson. On this side, I get to my group on this side as we go through. Yes, he essentially said what's your legal basis and they didn't have a legal basis.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, they didn't. They clearly just didn't want to answer the questions. They said that they consulted the White House about privilege but they never got an answer which I thought was a little strange.

And Angus King was clearly frustrated because he said your answers aren't good enough for me. And the chairman of -- Committee Chairman Burr at the very end admonished them and said, at no time should you appear before Congress without an answer to our questions. I mean, this is their job. And they were saying, well, this is Mueller's investigation, it's not appropriate. And they were just saying it's our opinion that it's not appropriate therefore, we're not going to answer.

KING: Is there any other conclusion that they both made a judgment. Dan Coats appointed by the president, Admiral Rogers inherited by the president, a career military man. Did they both made the judgment that politically they were not going to discuss that and embarrass the president because something was discussed. We don't know what.

They said they were not pressured. But they didn't say there was no such conversation. Which they could have said the president -- this never came up with the president.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If it never happened, you bet they would have said it never happened. Look, this was stonewalling. There's just no other way to say it. They were stonewalling and the frustration was bubbling over as you said not just from the Democrats but to come from the Republican chair at the very end saying that you can't do this. It isn't really telling.

And just the notion of Dan Coats saying, well, what I promised was that I would talk about it, that I would talk about it in a setting that is not public. It isn't classified. This is not intelligence information.

This is potentially privileged information if the White House wants to go there, but they didn't even know. It seemed like it was unnecessarily chaotic and uncomfortable and awkward. And it's unclear why knowing this hearing was coming, the White House didn't get their ducks in a row that everybody didn't understand where they stood and what they were going to say and it was painful to watch them.

KING: And nor did they commit. They said they would perhaps, perhaps and they were hopeful they could say more in a private setting not a public setting. But both the Admiral and Director Coats did not rule out the possibility that in further consultations with the White House or their own counsel, they might in a closed setting cite some executive privilege or some other reason not to answer the question.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and John McCain tried to get at that. And he was clearly exasperated with this whole experience saying listen, we have read about all of this in the Washington Post and now here you are before a Senate committee and before the American public, right? I mean, because that's the purpose of these hearings to inform the American public about what's going on with these investigations. So John McCain trying to get some answers.

[12:45:06] And it seems to me in that moment they could have flatly denied what was in the Washington Post and you had Coats there kind of oh, you know, at times things that appear in the Washington Post might not be true. But you know, in that -- I think in that moment it was telling that again, there were no flat out denials about these conversations.

KING: And for anybody watching who didn't read the Washington Post article this morning, the Post article contends that after -- again, we're going to hear from James Comey, the fired former FBI director tomorrow. This hearing is a sort of prelude to that. Tomorrow will be -- if tomorrow's blockbuster testimony, today was the preview if you will.

The Washington Post suggests that we know from Comey associates the president allegedly said, first pledge loyalty to me, then asked him to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation. We get that part from our Washington Post reports that the president asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, can you intervene? Is there anything you can do? Can you -- you can read it right there.

"As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and the CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey's handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates." And then the conversation allegedly going on to say, is there anything you two can do to help me to get him to back off.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You're going to have after today's session as we've had with every step of this investigation, Republicans and Democrats and the president -- many Republicans and Democrats take what they want from it. So the president certainly at some point will tweet, look they exonerated me there. But as Gloria said, keep in mind, the GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who supported the president during the election and was supported by the president said, in so many words, they did not answer the question.

A key question and they had no reason not to answer the question. Not classified. The Special Counsel did not ask them to talk about it. And you even had DNI Coats in a fairly remarkable moment there say, I'm not sure I have a legal basis for it.

That's a remarkable thing in front of a committee to which he had previously committed to answer these questions. Another moment I just -- Senator Martin Heinrich said it, how simple it would be for you to say no that never happened. He's right. And none of them said that.


KING: None of them said that.

ABBY PHILIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think whether they wanted to or not, the message sent loud and clear was that they had clearly layered carefully prepared answers to not answer the question. And I think that -- you know, if you're just casually watching this and you want to take a headline away from this, nobody is going to come away from this thinking that the headline is this thing didn't happen. They're going to come away thinking none of these people were willing to answer yes or no.

CAROL LEE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I was going to say to follow on that, one of the things they did is put this back on the White House. They said we will go and talk to White House counsel and we'll, you know, consult with them. And so now, you've kind of set up a situation where the White House has to answer to this. And we haven't heard from them. And it will be very interesting to see how they respond.

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: I keep thinking if Comey was never fired, he would have been sitting where McCain is sitting right now. And we wouldn't have a blockbuster hearing tomorrow that we're all anticipating. He would have been another person not answering these questions had the president not decided to fire him.

KING: And this hearing ostensibly was about whether to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA Law which is a very important intelligence gathering, foreign surveillance, international surveillance, and there's been a controversy about whether Americans get caught up on that. A very important policy issue.

This not going to get much attention because of this. But you mentioned, the conversations with Admiral Rogers and Director Coats, did the president somehow try to interfere, influence, get them to at least join the public -- if you want to have an innocent view of it, some sort of a public relations campaign to downplay the Russian investigation? If you a nefarious view, did he try to obstruct justice? Did he try to get them to intervene with the FBI director?

The FBI director testifies tomorrow. As you noted, the acting FBI seated at the table today, he was Jim Comey's deputy. We know from Comey associates that after conversations with the president that made Comey uncomfortable, he took notes. We also know from his associates he shared them with several close associates so that they would know this is what you do in law enforcement that these were contemporaneous memos, he didn't make them up after the fact. Early in the hearing, Andrew McCabe was asked, what did Jim Comey tell you.


SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Director McCabe, did Director Comey ever share details of his conversations with the president with you? In particular, did Director Comey say that the president had asked for his loyalty?

MCCABE: Sir, I'm not going to comment on conversations the director may have had with the president. I know he's here to testify in front of you tomorrow. You'll have an opportunity to ask him those things.

HEINRICH: I'm asking you, did you have that conversation with Director Comey.

MCCABE: And I've responded that I'm not going to comment on those conversations.

HEINRICH: Why not?

MCCABE: Because for two reasons. First, the -- as I mentioned, I'm not in a position to talk about conversations that Director Comey may or may not have had with the president.

HEINRICH: I'm not asking you that. I'm asking about conversations that you had with Director Comey.

MCCABE: And I think that those matters also begin to fall within the scope of issues being investigated by the Special Counsel and wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on those today.


[12:50:05] KING: Got a hint of it right there at the very end. That's the acting FBI director saying, those are issues that could fall under the purview of the Special Counsel therefore I should not discuss them publicly. Later in the hearing, Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island came back to the same point to put the hammer on the nail, if you will.


SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Getting back to your rationale for not commenting on the conversation between you and Mr. Comey, there's -- it seems to me that what you say is that either that is part of a criminal investigation or likely to become part of a criminal investigation. The conversation between the president of the United States and Mr. Comey and therefore, you cannot properly comment on that. Is that accurate?

MCCABE: That's accurate, sir.


KING: We knew these things that the Special Counsel was named. That the Special Counsel has pretty broad purview although it came up in the hearing there are ways the president or the Justice Department could fire him. We knew that among these subjects, the former FBI Director Bob Mueller, the Special Counsel would look into is, when the president fired Jim Comey was that in itself an effort to obstruct the investigation.

Did he asked him for his loyalty? Did he interfere? But will it make a difference in the public discourse about this to have credible public servants sit there and say it? This is all been sources say intelligence leaks. There you have people with long resumes in public service and law enforcement saying this is a criminal investigation including the president.

TOOBIN: I think it is significant. But you know, this is different from other investigations at least so far. You know, in Watergate, there was a special prosecutor and there was a congressional investigation. In Iran-Contra, there was a special prosecutor and there was a congressional investigation.

In those congressional investigations, the witnesses were not saying, I can't talk about it because the independent counsel is investigating it. They both go on at the same time and the public has an enormous interest in getting these facts. So if witnesses are going to come before Congress and say, we can't talk about it because the Special Counsel is investigating it, we'll never learn anything.

BORGER: Well, and maybe, they could be held in contempt of Congress. Who knows? I mean, Burr sounded upset about it. It seems to me there was one message they had. We weren't directed, we weren't pressured. That was it.


KING: And the president was also -- from the president's perspective, he was very lucky today, it was Dan Coats, a former senator in that chair and Admiral Rogers, a man in uniform in the chair. If these were two other people who didn't have, a, the military history and, b, the credibility with United States Senate, I think they would have been pushed further in this setting. That doesn't mean they won't be pushed further down the line but they didn't get it as hard today as they might have had it been other people.

BASH: But we were talking about the fact that you can have both investigations simultaneously and that was their excuse. If that were their actual excuse, then at least we can have that discussion. To me, their excuse was completely -- what was their excuse?


BASH: But then it was like -- I mean, at one point the fact that Dan Coats said, I don't really know if there's a legal basis. What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch that back.


TOOBIN: You have to admire his candor if not the legal advice he's giving.

KING: The only reasonable inference that I don't want to say something public that would embarrass the president.




HENDERSON: And get in, in hot water with the president.

SCIUTTO: And John McCain's moment (inaudible) as he's sitting there with a copy of the Washington Post and he called it (inaudible).

KING: Well, let's listen to that Jim because it's a great point. At the end of that, John McCain is not on the committee but he's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee so he gets to sit in. And at the end he was asking his friend Dan Coats about the Washington Post story today and the director's refusal to talk about it.


MCCAIN: You know, it's just shows what kind of an "Orwellian existence" that we live in. I mean, it's detailed as you know from reading the story as to when you met, what you discussed, et cetera, et cetera. And yet, here in a public hearing before the American people, we can't talk about what was described in detail in this morning's Washington Post. Do you want to comment on that Dan?

COATS: Are you asking me to comment on the integrity of the Washington Post reporting? I guess I've been around town --

MCCAIN: It's pretty detailed.

COATS: I guess I've been around town long enough to say not take everything at face value that's printed in the Post. I served on the committee here and often saw that information that we had been discussed had been reported but that wasn't always accurate. But I think this is the response that I gave to the Post was that, I did not want to publicly share what I thought were private conversations with the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KING: Just um, um. He doesn't know what to say at the end because the Post story is incredibly well documented. He just won't talk about it publicly.

[12:55:00] PHILIP: Right. And also at the end there, he kind of tacitly confirmed the story. He said he didn't want to comment on conversations that first of all, no one seems to want to acknowledge exists but he seemed to acknowledge in that moment that they existed. He just thought they were private.

Which when you're sitting before Congress is not a reason to not answer questions. Just because you think it's private, you don't want to talk about it, it's not a reason to not answer questions. And that's one of the reasons why you might see a Republican chairman of this committee essentially saying, you cannot do that because it undermines the very foundation of the whole point of having a Senate committee where people are sitting there, they're under oath, they're supposed to tell the truth. They have to tell the truth.

KING: And their frustration -- you could sense the Republican frustration at the end. Again, the chairman -- it was brought up earlier, the chairman saying, don't come up here unless you can answer the questions. It's your job to answer the questions.

Appreciate everybody coming. A little rock 'n' roll with all the live coverage. Thanks for joining us in the Inside Politics today. Wolf Blitzer takes over our coverage after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Right now, you're looking at live pictures --