Comey to testify publicly amid Trump-Russia probe
Former FBI Director James Comey has agreed to publicly testify as part of an investigation into Russia’s interference in the election, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced Friday evening.
Comey’s testimony in the open hearing, which the committee said it would schedule after Memorial Day later this month, comes amid continued fallout over President Trump’s abrupt firing of the FBI chief last week.
“The Committee looks forward to receiving testimony from the former Director on his role in the development of the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, and I am hopeful that he will clarify for the American people recent events that have been broadly reported in the media,” Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a statement.
Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, said he’s hopeful Comey’s testimony “will help answer some of the questions that have arisen since Director Comey was so suddenly dismissed by the President.”
“I also expect that Director Comey will be able to shed light on issues critical to this Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Warner said in a statement.
Prior to Friday, it was not clear whether Comey would be speaking to the committee in an open hearing or during a closed session, meaning behind closed doors.
Comey, who was running the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia, has been at the center of controversy surrounding the Trump administration since his ouster.
Trump called the former FBI chief a “nut job” during an Oval Office meeting last week with Russian diplomats a day after he fired the law enforcement official, according to a New York Times report Friday.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to a report based on a summary of the meeting obtained by the Times. Trump reportedly said that firing Comey eased “great pressure.”
The White House did not deny the report, saying that Comey had been “grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions,” and “created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”
“The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
Comey’s dismissal raised questions about the future of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election, which is also the subject of probes being conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein earlier this week appointed Robert Mueller, the longest serving director of the FBI since J. Edgar Hoover, as special counsel to oversee the federal Russia probe following Comey’s dismissal.
Rosenstein did not tell the White House or Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the action until after the order had been signed to appoint Mueller.
Lawmakers have continued to push for answers surrounding the circumstances and timing of Trump’s decision to fire Comey, who has since been invited to talk with House and Senate panels.
“Director Comey served his country with honor for many years, and he deserves an opportunity to tell his story. Moreover, the American people deserve an opportunity to hear it,” Warner said.
James Comey has agreed to testify before our Intel Cmte. I’m hopeful his testimony will provide some clarification for the American people
— Sen. James Lankford (@SenatorLankford) May 19, 2017
Meanwhile, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday said that Comey declined an invitation to appear before their panel to testify on the circumstances surrounding his ouster.
“We’re extremely disappointed in James Comey’s decision not to testify voluntarily before the Judiciary Committee,” committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement Friday evening.
“There is no reason he can’t testify before both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, particularly given that the Judiciary Committee is the FBI’s primary oversight committee with broad jurisdiction over federal law enforcement, FISA and the nomination of the next FBI director,” they said, calling on him to “reconsider his decision.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Oversight Committee both invited Comey to talk with lawmakers following reports that Trump had asked him to abandon the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The revelation came from a New York Times report earlier this week that Comey, then still in charge of the FBI, summarized a February meeting with Trump where the president made the request.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump allegedly told Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Updated: 7:57 p.m.