Comey gives testimony
Former FBI director says he’s not sure why he needed to answer questions at all
WASHINGTON — House Republicans interviewed James Comey behind closed doors Friday, hauling the former FBI director to Capitol Hill one final time before they cede power to Democrats in January. GOP lawmakers who stepped outside while the questioning was underway indicated they weren’t satisfied and will bring him back later this month.
Comey wasn’t pleased either, telling reporters, “We’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sake, so I’m not sure we needed to do this at all.”
A transcript of the interview “will bore you,” Comey said after the six-hour interview with two House committees.
Republicans say Comey and other Justice Department officials were biased against Trump as they investigated his campaign’s ties with Russia in 2016 and cleared Clinton in a separate probe into her email use.
Comey said he will be back at the Capitol for another closed-door interview the week of Dec. 17.
Democrats also were unhappy, saying Judiciary Committee Republicans’ questions were merely distractions from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Comey appeared for the interview after unsuccessfully fighting a subpoena in court. It was the first time he answered lawmakers’ questions since an explosive June 2017 hearing in which he asserted that Trump fired him to interfere with his FBI investigation of alleged Russia ties to the Trump campaign.
Two GOP-led committees are wrapping up a yearlong investigation into decisions made at the Justice Department during the 2016 presidential election. Republicans argue that department officials were biased against Trump as they started the investigation and cleared Clinton in a separate probe into her email use. Comey was in charge of both investigations.
Democrats have said the investigations by the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees are merely a way to distract from and undermine the special counsel’s Russia probe. Mueller took over the department’s investigation when he was appointed in May 2017.
Under a deal struck with the Judiciary Committee, Comey was to be free to speak about Friday’s questioning afterward and a transcript was to be released. Comey had argued that Republicans would selectively leak details and mischaracterize the proceedings.
After the questioning was underway, some Republicans signalled they were unhappy with Comey’s level of co-operation. California Rep. Darrell Issa said Comey had two lawyers in the room, his personal lawyer and a lawyer from the Justice Department. He said the department lawyer repeatedly instructed Comey not to answer “a great many questions that are clearly items at the core of our investigation.”
Issa suggested the committee might bring Comey back because he wasn’t answering questions.
Democrats disagreed that Comey wasn’t being co-operative.
“He answered the questions he had to answer,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. But he added that he was left with the impression that “we got nowhere today.”
Florida Rep. Ted Deutsch said the Republican majority “wishes to only ask questions still about Hillary Clinton’s emails, all to distract from the big news today, which is what’s happening in court.”
Mueller was to reveal more details about his Russia investigation in court on Friday as he faced deadlines in the cases of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said as he walked into the Comey interview that he will end the investigation when Democrats take the House majority in January.
“This is a waste of time to start with,” Nadler said. “The entire purpose of this investigation is to cast aspersions on the real investigation ... there is no evidence whatsoever of bias at the FBI or any of this other nonsense.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors said ahead of his sentencing next week that Cohen deserves a substantial prison sentence despite his co-operation with the special counsel.
Prosecutors in Cohen’s case said that even though he co-operated in their investigation into hush money payments made to two women who said they had sex with Trump, he nonetheless deserves to spend time in prison.
In meetings with Mueller’s team, Cohen “provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts,” the court documents said.
Cohen provided prosecutors with a “detailed account” of his involvement, along with the involvement of others, in efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to complete a deal to build a Trump Tower Moscow, the documents said. He also provided information about attempts by Russian nationals to reach Trump’s campaign, they said.
Former FBI director James Comey arrives ahead of testifying to the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees in Washington, D.C., on Friday.