Comey likely to dodge Rus­sia ques­tions

Fo­cus to be on strange Trump meet­ings

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

While for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey in­tends to speak at length about his strange and strained re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Trump when he tes­ti­fies be­fore Congress on Thurs­day, for­mer bureau of­fi­cials said he is un­likely to shed new light on the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and any links with mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign.

In pre­pared re­marks that were re­leased Wed­nes­day, Mr. Comey out­lines a se­ries of in­ter­ac­tions with the pres­i­dent that con­cerned the for­mer di­rec­tor, in­clud­ing Mr. Trump’s com­plaints about a “cloud” over his ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause of the bureau’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a re­quest that the FBI drop its probe into for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn.

But with Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller, Mr. Comey’s pre­de­ces­sor at the bureau who was ap­pointed to over­see the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mr. Comey will have co­or­di­nated with him what top­ics can be ad­dressed and which ques­tions he should de­cline to an­swer to avoid harm­ing the on­go­ing probe.

The Rus­sia probe in par­tic­u­lar will

likely get “a wide berth,” said Nancy Sav­age, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the So­ci­ety of For­mer Spe­cial Agents of the FBI.

De­spite the strict pa­ram­e­ters, Wash­ing­ton ob­servers point to the re­cently fired FBI di­rec­tor’s habit of mak­ing news when he tes­ti­fies be­fore Congress as ev­i­dence that it won’t be a hear­ing to miss.

“Even though he’ll be care­ful not to ed­i­to­ri­al­ize too much — he is highly pro­tec­tive of his rep­u­ta­tion and will want to avoid any­thing that looks like pay­back for his pink slip — sim­ply an­swer­ing law­mak­ers’ ques­tions could still elicit quite a show,” El­iz­a­beth Goitein, a co-di­rec­tor of the Lib­erty and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Pro­gram at the Brennan Cen­ter for Jus­tice, wrote in an anal­y­sis pub­lished Wed­nes­day in Time.

Mr. Comey’s tes­ti­mony was re­leased Wed­nes­day by the Se­nate Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, which will hear from the for­mer di­rec­tor in pub­lic tes­ti­mony Thurs­day. In the re­marks, Mr. Comey said he did, in fact, as­sure Mr. Trump re­peat­edly that the pres­i­dent was not per­son­ally un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion — back­ing up what the White House has said and un­der­cut­ting crit­ics who have said the pres­i­dent is a tar­get.

But the de­gree to which Mr. Comey sticks to a script may pro­vide an in­di­ca­tion of the na­ture of Mr. Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said Ron Hosko, who re­tired in 2014 as as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the FBI and is the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the Law En­force­ment Le­gal De­fense Fund.

“The more broadly Comey plays with his ad­jec­tives and de­scrip­tions may be an in­di­ca­tor Mueller doesn’t think there is an ob­struc­tion case there,” Mr. Hosko said.

The un­der­ly­ing con­cern be­ing that if in­ves­ti­ga­tors are pur­su­ing an ob­struc­tion case against the pres­i­dent, and if Mr. Comey’s rec­ol­lec­tions of the events at hand change even a lit­tle, he opens him­self up to at­tack by any good de­fense lawyer, he said.

“Even sub­tle changes risk an at­tack that the story just keeps get­ting bet­ter,” Mr. Hosko said.

Mr. Comey’s pre­pared re­marks recount five in­ter­ac­tions with the pres­i­dent that, ac­cord­ing to the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor, ap­peared to be an ef­fort to de­mand loy­alty.

Mr. Comey emerged from one Jan. 27 meet­ing, just a week af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion, say­ing he felt Mr. Trump was try­ing to pressure him by ask­ing him — for a third time — whether he wanted to stay on as FBI di­rec­tor.

“My in­stincts told me that the oneon-one set­ting, and the pre­tense that this was our first dis­cus­sion about my po­si­tion, meant the din­ner was, at least in part, an ef­fort to have me ask for my job and cre­ate some sort of pa­tron­age re­la­tion­ship. That con­cerned me greatly, given the FBI’s tra­di­tion­ally in­de­pen­dent sta­tus in the ex­ec­u­tive branch,” Mr. Comey says.

The seven pages of tes­ti­mony de­tail some of Mr. Trump’s re­quests in their in­ter­ac­tions, in­clud­ing a quick end to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mr. Flynn, who had just re­signed as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

“He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Mr. Trump said, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Comey’s re­count­ing of a one-on-one meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice in Fe­bru­ary.

“I did not say I would ‘Let this go,’” Mr. Comey says.

Mr. Trump also asked that Mr. Comey re­lease in­for­ma­tion that the pres­i­dent wasn’t un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I told him I would see what we could do, and that we would do our in­ves­tiga­tive work well and as quickly as we could,” Mr. Comey re­called.

Mr. Comey was so put off by his in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Trump — which in­cluded re­peated calls and the trou­bling Oval Of­fice meet­ing — that he de­manded the Jus­tice De­part­ment try to per­suade the pres­i­dent to stop.

Ac­cord­ing to the pre­pared re­marks, Mr. Comey twice spoke with Jus­tice De­part­ment lead­ers to alert them about Mr. Trump’s in­ter­ac­tions but ap­peared to have his re­quests for as­sis­tance re­buffed.

Mr. Comey said he first spoke to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions af­ter the Feb. 14 Oval Of­fice meet­ing, which oc­curred af­ter the at­tor­ney gen­eral and other top na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials left the room.

“I took the op­por­tu­nity to im­plore the At­tor­ney Gen­eral to pre­vent any fu­ture di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the Pres­i­dent and me,” Mr. Comey said. “I told the AG that what had just hap­pened — him be­ing asked to leave while the FBI Di­rec­tor, who re­ports to the AG, re­mained be­hind — was in­ap­pro­pri­ate and should never hap­pen. He did not re­ply.”

Mr. Comey’s sec­ond re­quest for guid­ance on han­dling the in­ter­ac­tions with the pres­i­dent came af­ter a March 30 phone call, dur­ing which he said Mr. Trump asked him what the FBI could do to “lift the cloud” of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mr. Comey said he called act­ing Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dana Boente to re­port the sub­stance of the con­ver­sa­tion. But he had yet to hear back from Mr. Boente be­fore Mr. Trump called Mr. Comey again on April 11 to ask “what I had done about his re­quest that I ‘get out’ that he is not per­son­ally un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

A Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman de­clined to com­ment on Mr. Comey’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tions.

Mr. Comey also noted an in­stance of Mr. Trump’s in­ter­est in Virginia politics and its re­la­tion­ship to the bureau’s deputy di­rec­tor, An­drew McCabe, who took over for Mr. Comey af­ter his dis­missal.

In 2015, Mr. McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe — a Demo­crat — ran for state Se­nate and ac­cepted roughly $500,000 from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Mr. McAuliffe is a long­time ally of Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton. Al­though Mr. McCabe has said he in­formed the FBI about his wife’s can­di­dacy and sought ethics ad­vice from the agency, crit­ics have pointed to the re­la­tion­ship as trou­bling.

“In an abrupt shift,” Mr. Comey re­called, “[Mr. Trump] turned the con­ver­sa­tion to FBI Deputy Di­rec­tor An­drew McCabe, say­ing he hadn’t brought up ‘the McCabe thing’ be­cause I had said McCabe was hon­or­able, al­though McAuliffe was close to the Clin­tons and had given him (I think he meant Deputy Di­rec­tor McCabe’s wife) cam­paign money. Al­though I didn’t un­der­stand why the Pres­i­dent was bring­ing this up, I re­peated that Mr. McCabe was an hon­or­able per­son.”

The pre­pared re­marks also of­fered a com­par­i­son be­tween the fre­quency of Mr. Comey’s in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Trump dur­ing the first four months he was in of­fice and his in­ter­ac­tions with Pres­i­dent Obama.

Mr. Comey said he spoke alone with Mr. Obama on two oc­ca­sions and never by phone. By con­trast, Mr. Comey said he had nine one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions with Mr. Trump, in­clud­ing three in per­son and six by phone. The for­mer di­rec­tor said he never felt the need to cap­ture the essence of his con­ver­sa­tions with Mr. Obama but felt com­pelled to do so with Mr. Trump, be­gin­ning im­me­di­ately af­ter their first meet­ing dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion. He said he be­gan typ­ing notes about the first meet­ing “on a lap­top in an FBI ve­hi­cle out­side Trump Tower the mo­ment I walked out.”

White House deputy press sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders told re­porters Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon that she found the tim­ing of the re­leased tes­ti­mony “a lit­tle bit in­ter­est­ing.”

She said she didn’t know whether Mr. Trump had a chance to re­view Mr. Comey’s tes­ti­mony. The pres­i­dent was hold­ing an event in Ohio when the tes­ti­mony was re­leased by the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

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