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US Intel Chiefs Grilled Over Russian Connections

James ComeyJames Comey

Top US intelligence officials were grilled by lawmakers on Wednesday about Russia’s election interference and possible coordination with Donald Trump’s campaign, ahead of a highly-anticipated appearance by sacked FBI director James Comey.

The former Federal Bureau of Investigation chief is expected to dispute Trump’s claim that Comey told him multiple times that he was not under investigation, AFP reported, citing sources familiar with Comey’s thinking.

That potential bombshell testimony–in which Comey also may address whether Trump urged him to halt or ease up on an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn and his ties to Russia–comes Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But on Wednesday the spotlight was on three intelligence chiefs, namely Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency head Mike Rogers and interim FBI director Andrew McCabe.

Citing US officials, it said Coats had told associates that Trump asked him whether he could intervene with Comey to get the FBI to ease its probe of Flynn.

Coats reportedly discussed that March conversation with other officials and decided that interceding with Comey, as Trump had suggested, would be inappropriate.

Rogers is also known to have had discussions with Trump about the Russia investigations, and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said he looked forward to public, unclassified testimony on Wednesday from Coats and Rogers.

“Classification shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to make things public that the public needs to hear,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday.

“And the conversations that the president had with each of them about investigations are not classified in any way.”

Adding to the drama, a top secret NSA report leaked to online news outlet The Intercept shows that hackers from Russian military intelligence repeatedly tried to break into US voting systems before last year’s presidential election.

Keen to crack down on leaks, the Trump administration quickly announced the arrest of a 25-year-old intelligence contractor on charges she violated the espionage act.

 

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