“I thought there was an opportunity there that I wish we would have taken advantage of,” Rogers said at an event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, on the relationship between the presidency and the intelligence community.
In July, Trump met one-on-one with Putin, a meeting he did not ask his top intelligence officials — including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats — for advice on, Coats later revealed.
During a press conference with the Russian leader, Trump undermined the US intelligence community’s universal conclusion that Russia had made attempts to attack the 2016 US presidential election, through digital interference and other methods.
“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, and said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.”
Speaking at George Mason University, Rogers went on to say that Trump “opted to go in a different direction and that certainly is his right as the President,” adding, “but I wish we had taken advantage of that opportunity.”
The former NSA chief said a public push back “could have sent a very powerful message.”
In the discussion on Tuesday evening, Rogers also recounted his conversations with Trump about Russia’s continued attempts to disrupt the US electoral system through cyber means in 2016 and beyond.
Rogers also sought to correct previous media reports that Trump had told him to publicly state that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
“I have never had a discussion on collusion,” with Trump or members of his senior staff, Rogers said. “I have never been directed to do anything, coerced, anytime I had a discussion, I felt I was able to say here is my view on that, I am very comfortable with it.”
“I said to myself, is this gonna be productive? So a group of former senior intelligence individuals complaining about how another former senior intelligence official is being treated, I’m not sure that’s the most effective way to address a very valid concern,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he thought that “pouring gasoline on the fire is not gonna reduce the flame. And we got enough fires burning right now. We need to focus on what are the outcomes we need to achieve as a nation.”
“I agree with the point the letter is making,” Rogers added, “but I’m concerned that it isn’t the most effective way to make the point. And number two, I’m concerned about what this will do for the men and women who are doing the work in the agencies that we have all been a part of, and as a result I opted not to go this route even as I recognized, john, everybody, you need to speak up and say what you believe. I don’t question that for one minute.”