A key headline emerging from the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing on Wednesday morning came after Adm. Mike Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats answered questions related to whether President Trump pressured them to publicly downplay the investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia.
Coats and Rogers both sang the same tune, insisting they had never felt or received pressure to act inappropriately. "In the three-plus years that I have been the director of the National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate," Rogers stated. Coates echoed that, saying, "I've never been pressured, never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship to ongoing investigations."
Republicans trumpeted those answers as proof the president did not inappropriately intervene in the investigation. Others saw the pair's deliberate avoidance of explicitly testifying to that point as evidence that Trump did act in some way to influence them.
Coats and Rogers, along with FBI Director Andrew McCabe, hesitated to reveal specific details of his or James Comey's conversations with the president in order, they said, to avoid inappropriately recounting private, confidential discussions in public.
Given these competing interpretations, what should we make of the testimony?
If Rogers and Coats are to be believed, and their credibility is sterling, Trump did not direct them or pressure them to (1) do anything Rogers sees as "illegal, immoral, unethical, or inappropriate" and (2) interfere with shaping intelligence to serve political purposes or "in relationship to ongoing investigations."
Does that definitively rule out the possibility that Trump asked either man to downplay the Russia investigation? Unless they're lying, it probably does. Though neither was able to provide a direct response to explicit questions about their conversations with the president, if concrete evidence were to emerge that Trump said anything inappropriate to them, both of their blanket statements would necessarily be considered lies. Though their language was broad, it was not broad enough to provide the wiggle room that would be required to shield them from that.
Rogers did couch his statement slightly with "to the best of my recollection," allowing him to lean on the possibility he forgot information in the case new details emerge. And both men's staunch refusal to get specific when pressed on key questions by members of the committee certainly looks suspicious.
But given the clarity of the answers Rogers and Coats did provide, along with their high credibility, it is probably a reasonable interpretation of their testimony to assume they meant that Trump did not make any inappropriate requests of either official.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.