Political News

5 things to watch: Coats, Rogers, McCabe and Rosenstein testify

Posted June 7

The Senate intelligence committee is back in the national spotlight for two days of blockbuster hearings and following news that relations between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had reached a boiling point surrounding his recusal from the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

Before Senate investigators probe former FBI Director James Comey, they will press four intelligence officials Wednesday in a hearing that on any other week would be the biggest event on Capitol Hill.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will all testify before the Senate intelligence committee 24 hours before the Comey hearing.

The event was scheduled five weeks ago as a review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but it quickly morphed into another chance for lawmakers to get some answers on the Justice Department's investigation into President Donald Trump's campaign and Russian meddling in the US election.

The hearing also comes the morning after news broke that Trump and Sessions have had a series of heated exchanges in the last several weeks, after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, according to a source close to Sessions.

Here are the five things to watch for Wednesday.

1. Did Trump pressure Coats and Rogers to dismiss concerns about Russia?

Before senators get to questions on whether Trump pressured Comey to kill his investigation of former National Security Michael Flynn, they're going to dig in on whether Trump pressured Coats and Rogers to rebut Comey.

According to The Washington Post, Trump pressed two of his top intelligence directors to argue that the FBI was not investigating ties between his campaign and Russian officials -- one day after Comey revealed the investigation in public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

The day after the report, Coats declined to answer whether it was true -- but Coats also teased that he may be open to answering the question if asked by the right committee.

"If I'm called before an investigative committee, I certainly will provide them with what I know and what I don't know," Coats said on May 23.

Sen. Mark Warner, the committee's vice chairman, said Wednesday it would be his first question of the hearing.

2. Can the Trump team score a win on leaks?

The White House and its growing "war room" may want to thank a 25-year-old NSA contractor named Reality Winner for becoming the first target of a leak investigation. Winner's alleged disclosure of an NSA report detailing Russian attempts to hack voting systems in the election, handed the Justice Department what appears to be an easy win.

Trump has made identifying "leakers" one of his top priorities as part of an effort to counter Russia stories and the topic of Wednesday's hearing -- FISA surveillance -- plays to Trump's strengths on this issue. (A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that McCabe would only answer questions about FISA, and not Russia.)

But Winner's alleged leaking of the report is bound to give committee Republicans a stronger foothold to ask questions than the hearing topic or any of Trump's tweets.

Opinion: The GOP wants to distract you with Reality Winner

3. Rosenstein's first public testimony

Just a day after Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as the special counsel for the Russia investigation, he headed to the Capitol for a pair of closed-door briefings about his decision. Second-hand reports of Rosenstein's promises and comments trickled out of the meetings, one in the House and one in the Senate, but Wednesday will mark the first time lawmakers can get Rosenstein on the record answering questions himself.

Rosenstein has been intrinsically wrapped into the Comey firing story, with White House officials citing Rosenstein's memo as the key reason for Comey's ouster. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has already promised to grill Rosenstein on what Trump told him when he said he wanted Comey fired.

Who's who in the Trump-Russia saga

4. Mueller questions

Mueller might not be at Wednesday's hearing, but with Rosenstein and McCabe in the room, questions of how the federal and Senate investigations will co-exist are likely to come up.

As of Tuesday, committee Chairman Richard Burr and Warner had still not talked to Mueller -- three weeks after his appointment.

How the James Comey hearing is Washington's Super Bowl

5. Will the White House exercise executive privilege?

Trump's surrogates may have said earlier this week that the President will not block Comey from testifying by claiming executive privilege. But all four of the officials testifying Wednesday still work for Trump, sparking some concern behind the scenes that Trump may try to curb their testimony.

The White House did not respond to questions of whether Trump would claim executive privilege Wednesday.

How to watch the James Comey testimony

Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all