Coats: ‘Lives Are at Stake’ Because of Anti-Trump Leaks

Director of national security, former CIA director blast disclosures of classified information

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 23 May 2017 at 12:55 PM

The director of national security, Dan Coats, sidestepped a question Tuesday about whether President Donald Trump asked him to publicly knock down allegations that his campaign colluded with Russian agencies.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Coats about the accuracy of a Washington Post story indicating that Trump had asked both Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers to assert that there is no evidence.

“Leaks have … played a very significant negative role relative to our national security.”

Coats declined to answer the question.

“I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information that we share, it’s not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that,” he said. “So on this topic and other topics, I don’t feel that it’s appropriate for me to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.”

In a separate hearing at the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA Director John Brennan said he is not aware of any effort to pressure members of the intelligence community to drop an investigation of former National Security Director Michael Flynn or to push back on the Trump-Russian collusion narrative.

Coats and Brennan both also made clear that published reports of classified information are putting national security at risk.

"Leaks have become a very significant, played a very significant negative role relative to our national security," Coats said. "The release of information not only undermines confidence [of] allies but our ability to maintain secure information that we share with them. It jeopardizes sources and methods … Lives are at stake in many instances."

Brennan also decried the leaks. Responding to a question from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), he said the most harmful part of a story about Trump's sharing of classified information with a pair of Russian diplomats in the Oval Office was a story naming Israel as the source of that information.

"These continue to be very, very damaging leaks, and I find them appalling," he said. "And they need to be tracked down. So that was where the damage came from, I think."

Brennan said that if news reports of the Oval Office meeting are accurate, Trump erred in sharing the information with diplomats. Such intelligence sharing should have been done with Russian intelligence officials and only after consultation with U.S. intelligence agencies, he testified.

But Brennan said it is appropriate in some instances to share classified information with other countries, even with adversaries.

"I shared classified information with the Russians while I was the director of the CIA," he said. "The CIA, on a routine basis, shares classified information with Russians on terrorism matters … That, in itself, is not unprecedented."

Brennan said that when he left office in January, he had "unresolved questions" about contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. But he stopped short of saying that there was proof of 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 act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons."

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) pressed Brennan about whether he saw evidence of collusion.

"I don't know whether or not such 'collusion' — that's your term — existed. I don't know," Brennan answered. "But I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the [FBI] to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials."

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