Trump intelligence nominee pledges support for Russia probes
President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the director of national intelligence on Tuesday pledged to back thorough investigation of any Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, seeking to reassure lawmakers worried that partisan politics might interfere with a probe.
“I think this is something that needs to be investigated and addressed,” former Republican Senator Dan Coats said during his confirmation hearing to be the top U.S. intelligence official.
Coats, 73, who was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also promised that the panel would have full access to all of the documents and other materials needed for an investigation.
“I have no intention of holding anything back from this committee,” Coats said.
Trump denounced intelligence agencies for their assessment that Russia sought to influence the election on his behalf. Trump has also repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, prompting concerns that he might not take a hard enough line in dealings with Moscow.
Coats addressed that concern by listing activity by Russia, along with that of China and North Korea, as among the main challenges faced by the country.
“Russia’s assertiveness in global affairs is something I look upon with great concern, which we need to address with eyes wide open and a healthy degree of skepticism,” Coats said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to oversee all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and improve communications among them.
One concern about Coats was his record on the U.S. use after the 2001 attacks of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which are widely seen as torture. In 2015, he was one of the few lawmakers who opposed legislation sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain that made the use of such techniques illegal.
Coats promised that he would follow the law, saying he voted against it because he wanted “to at least have a discussion” about the best way to proceed if the intelligence community wanted to obtain crucial information quickly.
Coats also strongly defended U.S. government surveillance programs, such as the gathering of millions of telephone metadata records.
Although he was ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush, Coats would be the first director of national intelligence who has not spent most of his career in the military, in the intelligence community or as a diplomat.
Coats, who is popular with Democrats and his fellow Republicans, is expected to be easily confirmed.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis)