Comey faces off with GOP over Clin­ton emails, al­leged bias

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Mary Clare Jalonick

WASH­ING­TON >> For­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey spoke to House in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­hind closed doors for al­most seven hours Fri­day, be­grudg­ingly an­swer­ing ques­tions about the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s de­ci­sions dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Comey, who ap­peared un­der sub­poena, an­nounced af­ter the meet­ing that he would re­turn for more ques­tion­ing 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,” Comey said.

Two GOP-led com­mit­tees brought 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. 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. Mueller took over the depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion when he was ap­pointed in May 2017.

Af­ter the ques­tion­ing was un­der­way, some Repub­li­cans sig­naled they were un­happy with Comey’s level of co­op­er­a­tion. 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.”

Democrats dis­agreed that Comey wasn’t co­op­er­a­tive.

“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 Comey ended, Mueller re­vealed new de­tails about his Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion in court on Fri­day in the cases of Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, and for­mer per­sonal lawyer Michael Co­hen.

It was un­clear if Comey is re­turn­ing the week af­ter next be­cause Repub­li­cans felt he was be­ing un­co­op­er­a­tive, or if it was an is­sue with tim­ing. While such closed-door in­ter­views of­ten ex­tend late into the night, law­mak­ers said Fri­day that the in­ter­view would end in the af­ter­noon be­cause of sched­ul­ing is­sues.

Just as the meet­ing ended, Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted that “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 Comey spoke un­der oath 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 closed-door 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 anti-Trump texts he sent to a col­league as he helped lead both in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Str­zok fought with Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers in a riv­et­ing hear­ing that fea­tured 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,” Nadler said. “The en­tire pur­pose of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion is to cast as­per­sions on the real in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is Mueller. There is no ev­i­dence what­so­ever of bias at the FBI or any of this other non­sense.”

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 Trump fired him to in­ter­fere with his FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion of al­leged Rus­sia ties to the Trump cam­paign.

His lawyers said he would pre­fer to tes­tify pub­licly and said the com­mit­tees were prone to se­lec­tively re­veal in­for­ma­tion for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.

“Don’t do it in a dark corner and don’t do it in a way where all you do is leak in­for­ma­tion,” said Comey’s at­tor­ney, David Kel­ley.

Un­der the deal struck with the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Comey was to be free to speak about Fri­day’s ques­tion­ing and a tran­script was to be re­leased soon after­ward.

House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Robert Good­latte, R-Va., de­cried Comey’s use of “base­less lit­i­ga­tion” and called it an “at­tempt to run out the clock on this Congress,” a ref­er­ence to the few weeks left be­fore Democrats take con­trol. Both Good­latte and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chair­man of the over­sight panel, are re­tir­ing at the end of the year.


For­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, with his at­tor­ney, David Kel­ley, left, ar­rive to tes­tify un­der sub­poena be­hind closed doors be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary and Over­sight Com­mit­tee on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, Fri­day.

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