Comey attends 7-hour probe over emails, Russian ties
>> WASHINGTON: Former FBI director James Comey spoke to House investigators behind closed doors for almost seven hours on Friday, begrudgingly answering questions about the Justice Department’s decisions during the 2016 presidential election.
Mr Comey, who appeared under subpoena, announced after the meeting that he would return for more questioning on Dec 17. Appearing annoyed, he said “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, expected to be released shortly, “will bore you’’, Mr Comey said.
Two GOP-led committees brought Mr Comey in as they sought to wrap up a yearlong investigation into the department’s decisions in 2016. Republicans argue that department officials were biased against Donald Trump as they started an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia and cleared Democrat Hillary Clinton in the probe into her email use. Mr 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 special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Mr Mueller took over the department’s investigation when he was appointed in May 2017.
After the questioning was underway, some Republicans signalled they were unhappy with Mr Comey’s level of cooperation. California Rep Darrell Issa said Mr Comey had two lawyers in the room, his personal lawyer and a lawyer from the Justice Department. He said the department lawyer repeatedly instructed Mr Comey not to answer “a great many questions that are clearly items at the core of our investigation’’.
“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’’.
As the interview with Mr Comey ended, Mr Mueller revealed new details about his Russia investigation in court on Friday in the cases of Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
It was unclear if Mr Comey is returning the week after next because Republicans felt he was being uncooperative, or if it was an issue with timing. While such closeddoor interviews often extend late into the night, lawmakers said on Friday the interview would end in the afternoon because of scheduling issues.
Just as the meeting ended, President Trump tweeted “it is being reported that Leakin’ James Comey was told by Department of Justice attorneys not to answer the most important questions. Total bias and corruption at the highest levels of previous Administration. Force him to answer the questions under oath!’’
While it was uncertain if Mr Comey spoke under oath on Friday, lying to Congress is a crime under any circumstance.
Over the past year, Republicans on the two committees have called in a series of officials and suggested after the closeddoor meetings that there is evidence of bias at the Justice Department.
The investigation’s most public day was a 10-hour hearing in which former FBI special agent Peter Strzok defended antiTrump texts he sent to a colleague as he helped lead both investigations. Mr Strzok fought with Republican lawmakers in a riveting hearing that featured Mr Strzok reading aloud from his sometimes-lewd texts, and Democrats and Republicans openly yelling at each other.
New York Rep Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, vowed to end the investigation when Democrats take the House majority in January.
“This is a waste of time to start with,’’ Mr Nadler said. “The entire purpose of this investigation is to cast aspersions on the real investigation, which is Mr Mueller. There is no evidence whatsoever of bias at the FBI or any of this other nonsense.’’
Mr Comey, who has testified publicly on Capitol Hill about both the Clinton and Russia investigations, appeared for the interview after unsuccessfully fighting the subpoena in court.
It was the first time he answered lawmakers’ questions since an explosive June 2017 hearing in which he asserted that Mr Trump fired him to interfere with his FBI investigation of alleged Russia ties to the Trump campaign.
LONG DAY AT THE OFFICE: Former FBI Director James Comey is followed by reporters following his appearance before a closeddoor hearing with the House Judiciary and House Oversight committees on Friday.