President Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.
May 19, 201710:19
NBC News confirmed that Coats and Rogers "were sufficiently concerned about the requests that one of them wrote a memo about it" and the two men "exchanged notes about their conversations with the president."That was the appropriate response. The idea that a sitting president of the United States would personally encourage the NSA director and the DNI to intervene this way -- effectively asking them to make public claims they couldn't prove -- is plainly outrageous.Making matters worse, the Post's report added that senior White House officials also "sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly" with then-FBI Director Comey in order to "encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn."One official said of the line of questioning from the White House, "Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?"The Washington Post's piece went on to quote a senior intelligence official who said Trump's goal was to "muddy the waters" about the scope of the FBI probe. The piece added, "Current and former officials said that Trump either lacks an understanding of the FBI's role as an independent law enforcement agency or does not care about maintaining such boundaries."I'm not sure what more Trump would need to do in order to cross the obstruction-of-justice threshold.Ordinarily in response to a report like this one, we'd expect to see a denial from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer or one of his deputies, but in this case, an unnamed spokesperson told the Post, "The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals."It's a curious response. There's nothing "illegal" about the disclosure -- it's not as if any of this information is classified -- and the fact that the White House spokesperson didn't want to be identified only reinforces the impression of fear gripping officials in the West Wing.I imagine for members of Congress, there's a reluctance to leap based solely on media accounts. Lawmakers can't yet say with certainty whether these reports are 100% accurate, so they're not yet prepared to start using phrases such as "smoking gun."That said, if the reporting is right, this White House has put itself in an untenable and unsustainable position.