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Trump Called on Spy Chiefs Amid Probe  04/22 06:17

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two months before special counsel Robert Mueller was 
appointed in the spring of 2017, President Donald Trump picked up the phone and 
called the head of the largest U.S. intelligence agency. Trump told Mike 
Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, that news stories alleging 
that Trump's 2016 White House campaign had ties to Russia were false and the 
president asked whether Rogers could do anything to counter them.

   Rogers and his deputy Richard Ledgett, who was present for the call, were 
taken aback.

   Afterward, Ledgett wrote a memo about the conversation and Trump's request. 
He and Rogers signed it and stashed it in a safe. Ledgett said it was the "most 
unusual thing he had experienced in 40 years of government service."

   Trump's outreach to Rogers, who retired last year, and other top 
intelligence officials stands in sharp contrast to his public, combative stance 
toward his intelligence agencies. At the time of the call, Trump was just some 
60 days into his presidency, but he already had managed to alienate large parts 
of the intelligence apparatus with comments denigrating the profession.

   Since then, Trump only has dug in. He said at a news conference in Helsinki 
after his 2017 summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin that he gave weight to 
Putin's denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, despite the firm 
conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that it had. "I don't see any reason 
why it would be" Russia, Trump said. And earlier this year, Trump called 
national security assessments "naive," tweeting "perhaps intelligence should go 
back to school."

   Yet in moments of concern as Mueller's investigation into Russian 
interference in the 2016 election got underway, Trump turned to his spy chiefs 
for help.

   The phone call to Rogers on March 26, 2017, came only weeks after 
then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had angered Trump by stepping aside from 
the investigation. James Comey, the FBI director who would be fired that May, 
had just told Congress that the FBI was not only investigating Russian meddling 
in the election, but also possible links or coordination between Moscow and the 
Trump campaign.

   The call to Rogers and others like it were uncovered by Mueller as he 
investigated possible obstruction. In his 448-page report released Thursday, 
Mueller concluded that while Trump attempted to seize control of the Russia 
investigation and bring it to a halt, the president was ultimately thwarted by 
those around him.

   The special counsel said the evidence did not establish that Trump asked or 
directed intelligence officials to "stop or interfere with the FBI's Russia 
investigation." The requests to those officials, Mueller said, "were not 
interpreted by the officials who received them as directives to improperly 
interfere with the investigation."

   During the call to Rogers, the president "expressed frustration with the 
Russia investigation, saying that it made relations with the Russians 
difficult," according to the report.

   Trump said news stories linking him with Russia were not true and he asked 
Rogers "if he could do anything to refute the stories." Even though Rogers 
signed the memo about the conversation and put it in a safe, he told 
investigators he did not think Trump was giving him an order.

   Trump made a number of similar requests of other top intelligence officials.

   On March 22, 2017, Trump asked then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National 
Intelligence Director Dan Coats to stay behind after a meeting at the White 
House to ask if the men could "say publicly that no link existed between him 
and Russia," the report said.

   In two other instances, the president began meetings to discuss sensitive 
intelligence matters by stating he hoped a media statement could be issued 
saying there was no collusion with Russia.

   After Trump repeatedly brought up the Russia investigation with his national 
intelligence director, "Coats said he finally told the President that Coats's 
job was to provide intelligence and not get involved in investigations," the 
report said.

   Pompeo recalled that Trump regularly urged officials to get the word out 
that he had not done anything wrong related to Russia. But Pompeo, now 
secretary of state, said he had no recollection of being asked to stay behind 
after the March 22 meeting, according to the report.

   Coats told Mueller's investigators that Trump never asked him to speak with 
Comey about the FBI investigation. But other employees within Coats' office had 
different recollections of how Coats described the meeting immediately after it 
occurred.

   According to the report, senior staffer Michael Dempsey "said that Coats 
described the president's comments as falling 'somewhere between musing about 
hating the investigation' and wanting Coats to 'do something to stop it.' 
Dempsey said Coats made it clear that he would not get involved with an ongoing 
FBI investigation."


(KA)

 
 
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