House panels grill Comey on 2 probes
‘I’m not sure we needed to do this at all,’ EXFBI chief says
WASHINGTON — Former FBI Director James Comey spoke to House investigators behind closed doors for almost seven hours Friday, grudgingly answering questions about the Justice Department’s decisions during the 2016 presidential election.
Comey, who appeared under subpoena, said 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 Gopled 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 that they cleared Democrat Hillary Clinton in the investigation 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 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 that 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.
As the interview with Comey ended, Mueller revealed new details about his Russia investigation in the cases of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
Just as the meeting ended, 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!”
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 10hour hearing in which former FBI special agent Peter Strzok defended antitrump 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 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.
JAMES COMEY will return for more questioning Dec. 17.