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Sen. Angus King On Heated Exchange With Intelligence Chiefs


Fired FBI Director James Comey takes questions before a Senate panel today. His written testimony, already released, shows he kept a meticulous record of his meetings with President Trump. Yesterday, the same committee asked intelligence agency chiefs about their talks with the president. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, insisted no one ever directed him to derail the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election. But when questioned, he declined to say in public if he'd ever been asked to do that. Admiral Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency also turned aside some questions, which displeased Senator Angus King of Maine.


ANGUS KING: Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the president of the United States of executive privilege? Is there or not?

MICHAEL ROGERS: Not that I'm aware of.

KING: Then why are you not answering the questions?

ROGERS: Because I feel it is inappropriate, Senator.

KING: What you feel isn't relevant, Admiral.

INSKEEP: Senator Angus King joins us now. He's an Independent, caucuses with the Democrats. Senator, welcome back to the program.

KING: Good morning, Steve. Glad to be here.

INSKEEP: So I'm just thinking they answered some of your questions. They didn't answer other questions. I'd say that I - for example, Coats saying, I wasn't directed, but not saying if he was asked. Even though you were frustrated, were they actually telling you something by what they didn't answer?

KING: Well, it was - it was really kind of puzzling because the questions were - were fairly straightforward. And as you heard on that little exchange, I said, you know, is there executive privilege? Is there - this classified - and there was really no answer to that. And, you know, my job, sitting in that chair, Steve, is to represent the people of Maine and ask the questions they would ask if they were sitting there. And our job is to get to the facts about this matter. And you can't get to the facts if the witnesses won't answer the questions.

INSKEEP: But I'm thinking if they're saying to you, no one ever directed me. But then they won't tell you if anyone ever asked them. I almost wonder if that's an official, in an impossible situation, who is basically telling you, well, actually someone did ask me. I just can't discuss that.

KING: Well, you know, that's what we want to get to the bottom of. And that was the sort of second line of my questioning is if they characterize the conversation as - as Director Cotes did - and said, no one directed me, the obvious follow up question is, well, did anyone ask you? What was the conversation? And he said, well, no I can't talk about that.

Well, wait a minute. If you can talk about it sort of, you can also answer the questions. And that's a perfect example where, you know, you want to follow up and say, what about this word directed now? What does that mean? Was it - were you asked? Was it suggested? What was the nature of the conversation? And that's where we got stonewalled, and that's when I started to lose my patience.

INSKEEP: So now you have another round with James Comey, the FBI director who was fired by President Trump. He's already released written testimony, as we mentioned. And one fact to that testimony - as James Comey affirms - that he did tell President Trump, on a number of occasions, that he was not personally a target of a counterintelligence investigation, which the White House is taking as - as vindication. But what specifically does that mean when you say that someone is not a target of a counterintelligence investigation?

KING: Well, all the - all the discussion has been contact between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And I can't recall any allegations along the way that President Trump directly made those contacts. We can't say one way or the other. But he was not a target of the counterterrorist investigation. That just means, in that situation, when Comey talked to him, that was - he wasn't looking at him personally. But I can tell you - I mean, James Comey has announced publicly that the FBI has been investigating the connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians for - I don't know - probably a year at this point.

INSKEEP: So you don't see this as vindication?

KING: Well, if it - he may say, well, this vindicates me personally, but that doesn't get to the question of his associates and his campaign. And he personally - you know, what about what's happened subject to those - subsequent to those conversations with - with Mr. Comey. So I don't - I can understand the White House saying, yeah, we weren't - he wasn't the subject of the investigation as of the date of those conversations. That - that's a fact. And we will probe the details of that today when we interview James Comey.

INSKEEP: OK, so you've already got his written testimony - James Comey's testimony. It's quite dramatic, almost novelistic in the details - describing phone calls and meetings and dinners with the president. And among other things, the president says to Comey, I need loyalty. I expect loyalty. I've been very loyal to you - very loyal - we had that thing, you know. He also asked for the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to be dropped at what - at some point. Was this appropriate behavior by the president the United States or not?

KING: Well, you're making me the judge and jury, as well as the - as the investigator, at this point. But clearly, I think Mr. Comey's written testimony, as you say, speaks for itself. And he - he himself felt very uneasy about this whole situation. There's not much question that he felt it was inappropriate because that's when he started keeping what amounted to a diary of these contacts. And he was - he didn't like being called to the White House for dinner by himself - talked about whether he wants to stay in his job, which was kind of weird because his job had a 10-year term, of which he had served, I think, two or three.

So the whole - that whole - the whole context of these conversations - I don't know if I'd use the word inappropriate. I'd use the word sort of strange and sort of - inappropriate may be the right - the right term that you - but again, Comey says in his testimony...

INSKEEP: About 10 seconds.

KING: ...What he was trying to do was educate the president and the White House about what the proper roles and boundaries should be.

INSKEEP: Senator, it's always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very much.

KING: Steve, always a pleasure. And we'll talk to you later.

INSKEEP: That's Senator Angus King of Maine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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