Image Credits: AP Photo
Today kicked off a two day long hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They called acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to testify, along with Director of the National Security Agency Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Former FBI Director James Comey is testifying tomorrow. What happened? Let’s break it down.
Who testified today?
Four officials testified today: Rogers, Coats, McCabe, and Rosenstein.
Why was this hearing being held?
This hearing is to determine if the President asked intelligence officials to publicly downplay the investigation or intervene into the Russia investigation in any way. This includes Trump asking Director Comey to pull back on the investigation. Today’s hearing also discussed Section 702, which is scheduled to “sunset” at the end of the year.
What is Section 702?
Section 702 is a part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It allows intelligence departments to “target the communications of non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States for foreign intelligence purposes.” This operates in efforts to mitigate terror plots.
During the opening statement, Chairman Senator Burr defended Section 702. He stated that “now is not the time to needlessly roll back and handicap these policies.” He justified this section saying it aids the government in conducting investigations. This includes the investigation into Russian interference in the election, and possible collusion.
Vice Chairman Senator Warner implored the officials to speak honestly about their interactions with President Trump. He said if he did indeed ask them to interfere, it would be an “improper use of our intelligence professionals” which had the potential to “erode the public’s trust in our intelligence institutions.”
In regards to Section 702, Rosenstein indicated that if the section was to go away, he would indeed have to obtain a court order to collect communication information on foreigners outside of the United States. Information collected from US citizens is subject to a warrant, pursuant to the 4th Amendment.
The NSA Director Admiral Rogers testified that he was never directed to do anything that was illegal in regard to the probe into Russian interference with the 2016 election or possible collusion between the President or his staff with Russia. Both Coats and Rogers said they also never felt pressure by Trump to intervene in the investigation. However, Directors Rogers and Coats declined to give any detailed accounts of interactions with President Trump. They would not share details of their conversations saying the open committee hearing was an inappropriate venue to have such a discussion.
In a heated interaction, Senator Heinrich asked Director Coats if President Trump asked for help blunting the Russia investigation. Coats continually declined to answer. Senator Heinrich stated that his unwillingness to answer a “very basic question speaks volumes.” Senator King stepped in and asked why he was not answering the questions. Director Rogers echoed Coats’ past answers saying “because I think it’s inappropriate.”
During the hearing, Director McCabe commented that the conversations between Comey and Trump are likely to become a part of a further criminal investigation. Because of this, he declined to comment on their interactions. McCabe confirmed he had conversation with counsel overseeing the investigation regarding their potential effect.