Democrats furious at evasive answers at hearing

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He is expected to testify about those conversations Thursday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Warner responded that even though Coats and Rogers "may not have felt pressured" by Trump, it's important to know whether the president asked them to interfere or intervene in the Russian Federation investigation or downplay the Trump campaign's ties to Russian Federation.

The committee is holding a closed session after lunch with staff about the technicalities of the law that allows the intelligence community to surveil foreign targets.

For a short moment it appeared the hearing may stay focused on foreign surveillance (Coat's 18-minute opening statement on the topic put one audience member to sleep.) But it quickly shifted to an intense examination of the Trump White House's handling of the Russian Federation probe.

Pressing further, King asked Coats and Rogers to explain the basis for their refusal to answer questions about their alleged conversations with Trump, which they implied were classified but are not.

Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the NSA director, also refused to talk about his interactions with the president, but he did offer a line that he referred back to repeatedly over the course of the hearing.

The hearing came a day before former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey's Thursday appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Why are you not answering these questions?"

"I would like a legal justification for your refusal to answer", King said. "You are inappropriately refusing to answer these questions today", King told Rogers.

Trump has repeatedly denied any coordination took place between his campaign and the Russian government, which, according to US intelligence agencies, stole emails embarrassing to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and leaked them to undermine her campaign. Trump reportedly has at various times in private conversations with Comey asked him for a pledge of loyalty and also urged him to drop the probe into Flynn.

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Rogers replied, "Not that I'm aware of".

"I mean, it's detailed, as you know from reading the story, when you met, what you discussed, et cetera, et cetera".

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked Coats to comment on that morning's Washington Post report that Coats told associates in March that Trump had asked him whether he could intervene in the FBI investigation.

Coats: "I don't share, I do not share with the general public conversations that I have with the president or many of my colleagues within the administration that I believe should not be shared".

Much of the morning-after media coverage of the hearing centered on Comey's assertion that Trump asked him to let go the FBI's probe into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

King, frustrated, fired back: "What you feel isn't relevant, Admiral".

Comey's testimony - released Wednesday afternoon before senators headed into a classified briefing with Coats - jibes with reports that Trump wanted Coats and Rogers to publicly rebut Russian Federation stories. The intelligence chiefs indicated they would be more comfortable speaking in a closed environment and Burr suggested during the hearing that he would schedule time for the four men to return for a closed session. Rogers told the Senate committee he never felt pressured by the White House.

"I'm not sure I have a legal basis", admitted Coats.

"Well, I do mean it in a contentious way", King snapped. When asked if he knew that was the case, he responded with answers that did not directly address the question. And Trump had a handful of sympathetic Republican senators on the panel, including Arkansas Sen.