President Donald Trump’s pick to be the nation’s next spy chief vowed Tuesday to fully cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election — including by handing over the raw intelligence key Democrats have requested.
The pledge by former Sen. Dan Coats comes as intelligence leaders in both chambers are sparring over how to conduct the probes, and as Democrats seem constantly on the brink of walking away over concerns the examinations are not impartial.
Story Continued Below
“I think this is something that needs to be investigated and addressed,” Coats told senators during his confirmation hearing to be the next director of national intelligence.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the panel’s top Democrat, asked his former colleague to promise to turn over any raw intelligence the panel might need for its inquiry, including intelligence community cables and other products.
“I think it’s our responsibility to provide you access to all that you mentioned,” Coats replied.
Russia “definitely did try to influence the campaign,” he later added, while cautioning that it’s unclear “to what extent they were successful.”
The Republican heads of both chamber’s Intelligence panel are under fire for talking to the White House about knocking down reports that the Trump campaign was in touch with Russian officials during the election.
Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats huddled Monday night to discuss their concerns about Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Ultimately, they deciding to stick with the committee’s inquiry for now. But the issue was boiling just beneath the surface at the start of Coats’ hearing.
Committee members “have made commitments that the outcome of this investigation will not be prejudged and that the committee will follow wherever the information leads,” Warner said during his opening statement.
“We need to get it right,” he added. “It’s my intention that his investigation will remain bipartisan and seek to be as transparent as possible and remain free of any political consideration or interference, including interference from the White House. … I will not accept any process that is undermined such political interference.”
Coats admitted he has yet to review the classified version of the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia tried to influence last year’s election with the eventual goal of putting Trump in the Oval Office.
But, he said, Russia has a “long history of propaganda” and influencing elections around the globe.
“They seem to have stepped up their game,” Coats told the panel, citing Moscow’s use of cyber tactics.
The U.S. must address Moscow’s aggressiveness “with eyes wide open and a healthy degree of skepticism,” he warned.
Coats also said he would follow a law banning the controversial interrogation methods used by the CIA under President George W. Bush.
But Coats noted that as a senator in 2015 he voted against the amendment that banned these techniques. The amendment, which passed, requires that government officials follow the Army Field Manual when conducting interrogations.
“Do you agree that it would require a change in law for the CIA or any government agencies to lawfully employ any interrogation techniques beyond those defined in the Army Field Manual?” Burr asked.
Coats responded that he would “absolutely follow the law in every aspect,” but acknowledged he would be open to changing the law to account for extraordinary situations.
“Perhaps,” Coats said, “we ought to at least have a discussion about what do you do in a situation where you have the necessary intelligence to know that something terrible is going to happen to the American people in a very short amount of time, and we have a legitimate individual who can tell you where that radiological bomb or biological material is and you don’t have time to go through the process that the Army Field Manual requires.”