National Security

House GOP set to grill Comey

Republicans are poised to grill former FBI Director James Comey on Friday in what could be the final act in a dramatic effort to probe allegations of bias at the Justice Department before Democrats take over the House.

The interview comes just weeks before the House GOP will turn over the majority to Democrats, who are expected to launch a slew of investigations into President Trump, his administration and his businesses when they take hold of committee gavels.

{mosads}Comey’s appearance will once again shift focus to a figure who has drawn ire from both Democrats and Republicans for his decisions in 2016 and has remade himself into one of Trump’s fiercest critics since the president ousted him as FBI director last year.

It comes after months of wrangling between House Republicans and Comey, who last week asked a federal court in D.C. to quash a subpoena issued by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that ordered him to testify behind closed doors.

Comey instead offered to testify publicly, arguing that otherwise GOP lawmakers would offer selective leaks that would fit their “corrosive narrative” of FBI bias against President Trump. 

A judge was set to rule on whether the interview could be delayed before Comey, acknowledging he faced an uphill legal battle, struck a deal with House Republicans in which he will testify behind closed doors, with a transcript of the interview released within 24 hours of his interview’s completion. Goodlatte seemed to signal it could take longer, saying in a statement it would be released “as soon as possible” in the name of a “combined desire for transparency.” 

The two congressional panels have been probing allegations that top Justice Department and FBI officials were biased in decisions they made with respect to investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

A watchdog investigation that revealed text messages between officials expressing criticism of Trump triggered the probe last year, and it has extended for months with Republicans grilling various subjects behind closed doors.

Critics say Trump’s Republican allies are driven by an ulterior motive — discrediting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Lawmakers are keen on pressing the former FBI chief on several matters, including a draft letter Comey wrote exonerating Clinton months before concluding his investigation and his contemporaneous memos documenting conversations with Trump that were leaked to the press.

Lawmakers are likely to drill down on details from the report released by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz over the summer that was highly critical of Comey’s judgment during the heated presidential race.

The interview also comes days after Mueller filed a memo recommending no prison time for Trump’s one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn as a result of his “substantial assistance” in the Russia investigation.

The developments could revive interest in Flynn’s case.

Comey helmed the FBI at the time Flynn lied to investigators about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. The former FBI chief also testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2017 that Trump told him to let go of the investigation into Flynn before firing him, an allegation depicted in one of his memos that Trump denies. Mueller is said to be scrutinizing the events to determine if Trump obstructed justice.

Republicans and Democrats are expected to attend the interview, but it remains unclear whether it risks being sparsely attended given that the House recessed for the week following the death of former President George H.W. Bush.

The interview, slated to begin at 10 a.m., is likely to stretch on for several hours. Comey’s attorney David Kelley said he had received no “commitment on the length of the interview.”

While a Republican source told The Hill in October that the joint congressional probe was in its final stages, the November midterms imposed a hard deadline for Republicans to compel Comey and others to testify before losing their subpoena power come January. Goodlatte has also subpoenaed former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to testify, but it’s unclear when the interview will occur. A committee aide said Thursday that Lynch “is expected to come in for her interview before the end of this Congress.”

Comey has emerged as a key target among GOP lawmakers, who have called on him to testify for months.

But some committee lawmakers have said it would have been more important to squeeze in interviews with other key witnesses before the start of this Congress, a sign of tacit disapproval for the way Reps. Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have handled the investigation.

Conservatives like Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have been jockeying for testimony from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after The New York Times reported he suggested secretly recording Trump and recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to expel him from office. Rosenstein has denied the report and Trump himself has suggested he doesn’t believe it.

“I think it is much more important that we subpoena Rod Rosenstein to come in and answer questions about what he plans to do in taping the president of the United States than it is to hear testimony from Director Comey and Attorney General Lynch,” Meadows recently told The Hill.

Goodlatte and Gowdy did arrange for a closed-door interview with Rosenstein back in October that was limited to committee leaders, but were forced to postpone it at the eleventh hour. The meeting has not been rescheduled.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Donald Trump FBI Hillary Clinton House Judiciary Committee James Comey Mark Meadows Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein Subpoena Testimony Trey Gowdy

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