GOP, Comey have tense day — with promise of a second date

Former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyAttorney General Barr puts former intel bosses on notice Christopher Steele's nugget of fool's gold was easily disproven — but FBI didn't blink an eye Clash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash MORE was grilled behind closed doors for seven hours by House lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Friday, with a promise his testimony will be released sometime Saturday — and a guarantee that he’ll return for another round of questioning later this month.

Comey said he would return for a second session on Dec. 17, when Republicans will retain their chairmanships before Democrats take over the House in January.

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Friday’s hearing was well-attended by Republican lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Judiciary panel, which are jointly investigating alleged bias at the Justice Department and FBI. It follows months of wrangling between Comey and Republicans over the terms of the interview.

Lawmakers provided few specifics about the interview. Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech DeVos family of Michigan ends support for Amash MORE (R-N.C.) repeatedly declined to answer questions about the mood in the room or the specific lines of questioning. Relatively few Democrats attended it.

Comey’s appearance is the latest flashpoint in a GOP-led investigation that has slogged on for a year, driven by text messages unearthed by the Justice Department's inspector general that showed top department officials expressing criticism of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE before the election.

Republicans have seized on the messages and other details as evidence of bias against Trump in
the decisions they made in the investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE’s use of a private email server and a separate probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In a report released over the summer, the inspector general criticized Comey for making public pronouncements in the Clinton email investigation but found no evidence that political bias influenced the bureau’s decisions.

Democrats and other critics argue Republicans are seeking to undermine special counsel Robert
Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.

“This was again a frivolous attempt by Republicans to drag old investigations into the limelight,” Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeDems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Reparations: The 'lost cause' of black politics? Dem lawmaker says Trump 'has in many respects become a dictator' MORE (D-Texas) told reporters Friday.

By all accounts, the interview covered expected topics, with Republicans pressing Comey on allegations of bias. The questions touched on the anti-Trump texts as well as the so-called Steele dossier that surfaced early last year containing salacious allegations about Trump’s links to Moscow, according to Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiLawmakers celebrate 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote Lawmakers say improving transparency in higher education offers chance for bipartisanship Dem lawmaker calls bipartisan College Transparency Act a 'game changer' for higher education MORE (D-Ill.), who spoke to reporters toward the end of the interview.

Comey also faced questions from Democrats on his decision to announce that he had reopened the Clinton probe less than two weeks before the 2016 election, which some liberals have argued cost Clinton the election.

“We pushed him on the fact that it seems that he treated the Hillary Clinton investigation differently than the Trump investigation,” said Rep. Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezLawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech Amazon shareholders vote down limits on facial recognition software The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE (D-Calif.), adding that Comey answered he wouldn’t have acted differently if the same scenario were to occur today.

“But he does understand that it had big implications,” Gomez said.

According to lawmakers in the room, Comey declined to answer some questions on the advice of FBI counsel, frustrating some Republicans.

Democrats, meanwhile, said Comey was appropriately declining to answer questions so as not to disclose classified information or sensitive details about the Russia investigation.

Meadows said the questions Comey declined to answer were not unusually high in number compared to other Justice Department witnesses, but he nevertheless suggested the lawyer’s intervention was inappropriate.

“I can say this without talking about the specifics of what’s happening today: Throughout our transcribed interviews with multiple witnesses, I believe the FBI has objected to a number of questions that should have been answered, only to find out later that we were being able to get some of the answers to those that were denied during the transcribed interview,” Meadows told reporters.

Trump also weighed in on Comey’s decision to decline answering some questions just moments after the former FBI official left the meeting, claiming that “total bias and corruption” existed “at the highest levels” of the previous administration.

“Force him to answer the questions under oath!” the president added.

Comey, moments earlier, had disputed shutting down specific lines of questioning, but said those questions did not comprise a significant amount of the interview.

“The FBI, for understandable reasons, doesn't want me talking about the details of the investigation that is still ongoing, it began when I was FBI director,” he said. “So it makes sense that they don't want me to go into those details.”

Republicans have hurried to bring in witnesses for their investigation following November’s midterm elections, before Democrat take over committee gavels in the new Congress.

Comey last week filed a motion to quash a subpoena from Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.) calling for his Dec. 3 testimony before the committee behind closed doors. Comey objected to the format but volunteered to appear publicly, accusing Republican lawmakers of contributing to a “corrosive narrative” about the FBI investigations by selectively leaking details of testimony to fit their narrative.

Eventually, Comey withdrew his legal challenge early this week after Republicans agreed to conduct the interview privately but release a transcript of the proceedings thereafter. The deal also allows Comey to speak publicly about the interview.

Trump’s decision to abruptly fire Comey in May 2017 eventually triggered the appointment of Mueller as special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 election. Mueller is also said to be examining the circumstances surrounding Comey’s ouster to determine whether the president obstructed justice.

Obstruction came up during Friday’s interview as well, but Democrats signaled Comey largely stayed consistent with his past testimony to the Senate and the characterizations in the book he published earlier this year.

“I walk away with the impression that everything has been consistent,” said Krishnamoorthi. “There hasn’t been a lot of news coming out of this.”