US President Donald Trump asked two intelligence chiefs in March to push back against the FBI investigation into possible collusion between members of his presidential campaign and Russia, current and former US officials told the Washington Post in a report published Monday.
In the newest report suggesting the White House sought to tamp down the Russia probe, the Post said Trump urged National Security Agency chief Michael Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to publicly deny any evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia during last year’s presidential election.
The two flatly refused, the Washington Post reported, deeming the request inappropriate.
Trump’s reported request came after March 20 when then-FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau was investigating “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
The president abruptly fired Comey earlier this month, in a shock move that only increased speculation surrounding alleged Russia collusion.
The White House gave several different accounts of why Comey was dismissed but Trump later said in an interview that it was at least partly because of the Russia investigation.
According to the report Monday, Trump is also building a team of outside legal counsel to handle his responses to the possible collusion investigations.
Several high-profile lawyers were currently being considered to help the president handle the federal and congressional probes, and Trump is personally involved in the search, according to the Post.
It said the president, who declared himself the victim of the “greatest witch hunt” after a special prosecutor was appointed to oversee the investigation into Moscow’s efforts to tip the US elections, is favoring the use of a team of lawyers rather than a single attorney.
The finalists to serve as Trump’s lead attorney are Marc Kasowitz, Robert Giuffra Jr., Reid Weingarten and Theodore Olson, according to the Post. They would serve separately from the White House Counsel’s Office.
Last week, the White House was hit by two bombshell reports related to Russia, one alleging that Trump had asked Comey in February to “let go” of the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, and another describing an alarming intel leak to Russian officials, disclosing classified information obtained through an intel arrangement with Israel.
In that same meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kysliak, Trump is reported to have said that the firing of “nut job” Comey had eased the pressure on him.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” the New York Times reported last week that Trump said during the May 10 meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The Washington Post then reported, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter, that a senior Trump adviser was now considered a “person of interest” in the investigation.
Late last week, the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over the federal investigation in an effort to re-establish independence from the White House.
Trump is currently in Israel as part of his first foreign trip, having landed in the country on Monday following a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia. He is headed to Europe next.