House GOP un­sat­is­fied with Comey’s an­swers at hear­ing

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Mary Clare Jalonick

WASHINGTON — House Repub­li­cans in­ter­viewed James Comey be­hind closed doors Fri­day, bring­ing 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 might try to bring him back.

Democrats weren’t pleased ei­ther, but for a dif­fer­ent rea­son. They said the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Repub­li­cans’ ques­tions were merely dis­trac­tions from the spe­cial coun­sel’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 2016 hear­ing in which he as­serted that Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 Demo­crat Hil­lary 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.

Walk­ing into the meeting, Comey said he might an­swer ques­tions in pub­lic af­ter the ses­sion. He gave a wry an­swer when asked if he was “best friends” with Mueller, as Trump has tweeted.

“Note that I smiled,” Comey said.

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.”

Issa sug­gested the com­mit­tee might bring Comey back be­cause he wasn’t an­swer­ing ques­tions. Two other Repub­li­cans, Reps. Andy Biggs of Ari­zona and Mark Mead­ows of North Car­olina, also sug­gested they might need a sec­ond ses­sion with Comey if they didn’t fin­ish their in­ter­view by a late af­ter­noon dead­line.

Democrats dis­agreed that Comey wasn’t be­ing 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.”

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. 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 de­fi­antly fought with an­gry 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, 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.

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