Executive privilege won’t be used to silence Comey
Trump shrugs on halting testimony to Congress
The White House said Monday that President Trump won’t stop fired FBI Director James B. Comey from testifying to Congress this week, a highly anticipated media event that the president and his team are trying mightily to ignore.
Mr. Trump won’t assert executive privilege over Mr. Comey’s testimony Thursday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, a move that would have blocked him from talking to lawmakers on matters such as whether the president pressured him to drop an investigation of possible collusion between Trump aides and Russia.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders said Mr. Trump made the decision “in order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee.” The White House suggested that Mr. Trump wasn’t worried about Mr. Comey’s pending testimony, with Ms. Sanders reminding reporters that “the president’s power to exert executive privilege is very well established.”
Presidents can invoke executive privilege on the grounds that the executive branch has a right to protect the confidentiality of conversations between the president and top advisers.
A media frenzy is all but assured when Mr. Comey is sworn in on Thursday. Cable networks on Monday were already promoting the hearing three days in advance, with CNN and others planning live coverage of Mr. Comey’s full testimony.
MSNBC host Ali Velshi touted Mr. Comey’s upcoming appearance eagerly Monday afternoon, telling viewers, “We’re just three days away from ‘must-see TV.’”
As if to prove the White House’s lack of concern, Mr. Trump has planned a week packed with events to show he’s moving forward with his agenda.
On Monday the president rolled out his plan to reform the nation’s air traffic control system, hosting an event in the East Room filled with airline executives, travel advocates, union officials, lawmakers and other stakeholders. A Marine Band string quartet played in the adjacent grand foyer, where guests were also treated to the scent of massive gardenias.
Also on Monday, Mr. Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin announced a multibillion-dollar decision to put veterans on the same electronic medical records system used by the Pentagon. The White House brought in Mr. Shulkin to discuss the move at the daily press briefing, which ate up two-thirds of the time allotted for reporters’ questions and less time for questions about Mr. Comey and Russia.
On Tuesday Mr. Trump will host lawmakers at the White House to discuss ways to move forward in the reluctant Senate with a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare and to devise a pathway for tax reform.
On Wednesday Mr. Trump will travel to the Cincinnati, Ohio, region to promote his plans for more infrastructure spending to upgrade the nation’s waterways for moving freight.
The president’s schedule for Thursday is similarly packed, although it’s doubtful the cable news junkie and his advisers will be able to avoid media coverage of Mr. Comey even if they tried.
“If Mr. Comey does testify, we’ll be watching with everyone else,” presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said on NBC before the decision was announced not to assert executive privilege.
Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last month, saying he had lost confidence in him and had planned to dismiss him all along. He cited Mr. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation during the campaign last year.
The president also said he believed the Russia allegations are phony, although he insisted that he wasn’t trying to derail the probe by firing Mr. Comey.
Since the firing, Mr. Comey’s allies have gone on the attack against Mr. Trump in the media, saying that the former FBI director felt pressure from the president to back off the Russia probe, specifically as it related to former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The Senate hearing is part of the committee’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election and purported ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Mr. Comey is expected to be asked whether Mr. Trump tried to interfere with the probe, which is now being overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told NBC in an interview aired Sunday that the allegations of Russian meddling are “nonsense.”
“I haven’t seen, even once, any direct proof of Russian interference in the presidential election,” Mr. Putin said.
President Trump won’t use executive privilege to prevent former FBI Director James B. Comey’s testimony before Congress, the White House said.