President Trump is looking for a little help from the intelligence community — but if Tuesday's hearings on Capitol Hill are any indication, he isn't likely to get it anytime soon.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump asked two current intelligence officials, Adm. Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, and Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, to “publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.”
They refused, saying it would be inappropriate. Another intelligence official told The Post that Trump was intentionally trying to “muddy the waters” regarding the Russia investigation. The White House issued a short non-denial of The Post's report.
Coats and former CIA director John Brennan testified in front of Senate committees Tuesday, and their testimony didn't help Trump's case. At all. Here are five moments that stand out as being particularly unhelpful to the president:
1) “It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in the 2016 [presidential] election process.” — Former CIA director John Brennan
Why this is the opposite of what Trump wants to hear: Because the president has never said as much. At the start of his presidency, Trump was very hesitant to even acknowledge what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded — 17 of them.
And Brennan's declarative statement about Russians' intentions to harm U.S. democracy — “We are their principal nemesis,” he later said — would seem to be at odds with Trump's interactions with Russia since the election:
- During the campaign, Trump repeatedly refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- After Trump moved into the White House, Putin was among the first foreign leaders he called.
- Earlier this month, Trump welcomed top Russian officials (and their state photographer) into the Oval Office. He shared highly classified information with them.
- Trump's national security adviser at the time had repeated contacts with Russian officials, including about U.S. sanctions, then lied about it.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had to recuse himself from Russia investigations after he did not disclose to Congress his communications with the Russian ambassador. Jared Kushner also has had repeated contact with Russians.
And then you have the former head of the CIA saying this: “The Russian intelligence threat is a serious one, and this is just one manifestation of the nature of that threat,” Brennan told Congress on Tuesday.
2) “My radar goes up early when I see certain things that I know what the Russians are trying to do, and I don't know whether or not the targets of their efforts are as mindful of Russian intentions as they need to be.” — Brennan
We're going to cheat here and give you another chunk of Brennan's testimony, about why all those contacts with Russians started an FBI investigation into potential Trump-Russian campaign collusion:
“Having been involved in many counterintelligence cases in the past, I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to try to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. And so therefore, by the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion. And so therefore I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues."
Why this is not what Trump wants to hear: The president has aggressively pushed back against the fact that the FBI is investigating his campaign's connections with Russia, going so far as to ask top intelligence officials to publicly say there is no evidence of collusion.
But Brennan says that FBI investigation is “well-founded.”
Brennan made clear that he had suspected only that Russia may have used members of the Trump campaign to undermine the election. But his suspicions were enough to refer everything he knew to the FBI, which is now waist-deep in a months-long, mostly covert investigation of this very thing. We learned last week that the FBI is not just looking into people loosely associated with his campaign but with one senior official working in the White House right now who is close to the president.
3) “These are contacts that might have been totally, totally innocent and benign as well as those that might have succumbed somehow to those Russian efforts.” — Brennan
Why this is not what Trump wants to hear: Brennan said that Russia's modus operandi is to try to use, influence, win over or blackmail people to do its bidding. And sometimes, these people don't even know they are being used by Russia. Brennan's comments raise the possibility that the FBI is investigating whether Trump campaign officials were essentially tricked by Russia into helping them, which is safe to assume is not a possibility Trump wants out there.
4) “I believe they tried to damage and bloody her before the election.” — Brennan
Why this is not what Trump wants to hear: From Trump's perspective, acknowledging that Russia tried to help his campaign threatens to call into question the legitimacy of that victory. Trump won three states by less than one percentage point and did not win the popular vote.
Brennan is underscoring here that the Russians did actively try to help Trump, especially by aiming to make Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton look unpalatable to voters. Brennan also surmised that Putin may have liked the idea of a businessman as president, an outsider who might be more amenable to negotiations with the Russians.
5) “Any political shaping of [the intelligence community] would not be appropriate. I have made my position clear on that to this administration, and I intend to maintain that position.” — Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats
Why this is not what Trump wants to hear: Trump has been looking for some help from the intelligence community to defuse the Russia investigation any way he can. Coats is part of Trump's inner circle of national security advisers, and is reportedly present at most, if not all, of Trump's intelligence briefings.
And Coats was one of the officials Trump looked to for public support, apparently asking Coats and Rogers, the NSA director, to issue public statements saying there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
But this statement from Coats, who earlier in the hearing declined to answer a specific question about his conversations with Trump, makes it clear that he isn't going to make excuses for Trump, especially concerning an ongoing investigation.
One of the things Trump expects from his staff — really, everyone in his administration — is loyalty. And although Coats declined to discuss their private conversations, his assertion that interference from Trump would be inappropriate is, in its own way, a public rebuke.