Week ahead: Comey under fire; Lawmakers look for Russia response

Week ahead: Comey under fire; Lawmakers look for Russia response
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All eyes will be on FBI Director James Comey who finds himself in the hot seat after news the Justice Department's watchdog is reviewing his handling of the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Armageddon elections to come Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE probe and amid mounting Democratic anger over Russia's election hacks.

On Thursday, the DOJ's inspector general announced they would investigate the FBI's conduct during the 2016 election. It comes after concerns from congressional chairmen over Comey's disclosures about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server during the campaign.

Critics say that Comey broke bureau policy and could have cost her the election. But Comey has defended his handling of the matter and said he welcomes the inspector general's review.


"I am grateful to the Department of Justice's IG for taking on this review," said Comey. "He is professional and independent and the FBI will cooperate fully with him and his office. I hope very much he is able to share his conclusions and observations with the public because everyone will benefit from thoughtful evaluation and transparency regarding this matter."

Comey was also on the receiving end of anger over the Russian hacking of Democratic groups during the election.

On Friday, many Democratic lawmakers left a confidential briefing on the hacks criticizing Comey's actions and calling for him to go.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) confronted Comey about the Russian hacking.

One Democrat also yelled: "You let us down" during the meeting.

"I was nonjudgmental until the last 15 minutes. I no longer have that confidence in him," Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, told reporters after the briefing. "Some of the things that were revealed in this classified briefing -- my confidence has been shook."

Many Republicans have continued to defend Comey, with Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) calling him a "good man who was placed in a very difficult situation."

One conservative voice though added to Comey's woes, on Friday, when the Wall Street Journal's editorial board said President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE should fire Comey if he doesn't resign.

"If the FBI director has demonstrated anything in the last year, it's that he has lost the trust of nearly everyone in Washington, along with every American who believes the FBI must maintain its reputation as a politically impartial federal agency," the paper said.

The debate over how to respond to the hacks will also remain on the front pages in the week ahead.

Trump, who has advocated for a friendly relationship with Russia, faces an increasingly tough path to realize that goal. 

At his first post-election press conference, Trump for the first time acknowledged that Russia was likely behind breaches at the Democratic National Committee and other political targets.

“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said.

Congress, though, looks to be moving ahead of the president.

Last week, Senators unveiled a Russia sanctions bill to punish Moscow for the election year hacks. The bill from a bipartisan Senate group headed by Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPoll: Sinema approval higher among Arizona Republicans than Democrats Meghan McCain: COVID-19 battle made me doubt if nation will recover from pandemic Biden's year two won't be about bipartisanship  MORE (R-Ariz.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSALT change likely to be cut from bill, say Senate Democrats Senators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate On The Money — Support for new COVID-19 relief grows MORE (D-Md.) not only codifies President Obama's sanctions on Russia, but expands them.

And in the House, 50 Democratic members also supported a bill to sanction any individual associated with election interference – with the secretary of State in charge of maintaining a list of such targets.

Cybersecurity watchers will be looking to see if the measures gain momentum.

At last week's confirmation hearings, Trump's nominees for the CIA, Department of Homeland Security, and Pentagon all backed the intelligence community's report blaming Russia.

All of which makes it more difficult for the new administration to quickly move beyond the hacking issue and other security issues that might sour Trump's hopes of easing U.S.-Russia relations.

Russia is already feeling the heat from the outgoing Obama administration, thanks to a new American presence at a NATO base in Poland.

"We perceive it as a threat. These actions threaten our interests, our security. Especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders. It's [the US], not even a European state," Russian Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the deployment.


But Trump appears eager to use any sanctions as a bargaining chip.

Over the weekend, Trump floated two ways Russia could escape Obama's economic sanctions. One would lift the penalties if Russia can demonstrate it's a dependable ally Another would ice the sanctions for concessions in nuclear disarmament.

All eyes this week will be on Trump to see if he can push Congress to accept dealmaking with Russia in lieu of a punishment.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, lawmakers scheduled confirmation hearings for nominees at two departments where cyberattacks are a growing threat. 

The hearings for Wilbur Ross, Trump's Commerce pick, and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) his Health and Human Services nominee will take place on Wednesday.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is nominated to run the Energy, will head before the Senate on Thursday.



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