The Washington Post Sunday

Comey’s testimony treads little new turf


Former FBI director James B. Comey’s closed-door interview with House lawmakers on Friday was largely a repetition of themes and facts that have emerged in previous public sessions, according to a transcript of the six-hour session that panel leaders released on Saturday.

Republican­s from the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees peppered Comey with questions about the FBI’s investigat­ion into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, including whether Comey would have dismissed former officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page from the probe had he known they were exchanging texts disparagin­g then-presidenti­al candidate Donald Trump.

Comey said he probably would have. However, the former director repeatedly declined to answer questions seeking detailed answers about elements of the FBI’s Russia investigat­ion, which Comey either could not recall — such as who prepared the document launching the bureau’s counterint­elligence investigat­ion of individual­s affiliated with Trump — or thought came too close to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing investigat­ion of Russian interferen­ce.

Comey was asked frequently about whether the president obstructed justice when Trump fired him last year. An FBI lawyer sought to block him from answering a question about a memo Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein wrote supporting the terminatio­n, saying it “goes to the special counsel’s investigat­ion into obstructio­n.”

That seems to offer public confirmati­on from law enforcemen­t that such a probe exists.

When it came to questions about his own conduct, however, Comey was loath to take any blame.

Several Democrats asked whether he had erred in supersedin­g then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to declare the Clinton probe closed — and then informing Congress just days before the 2016 election that it had been reopened. Comey responded by criticizin­g Lynch’s decision not to recuse herself from the investigat­ion and said the timing of his decision to write to Congress had been approved by subordinat­es.

Asked whether he regretted not following normal Justice Department protocol, Comey said, “I don’t” and disputed that he had done so.

“I still think the other alternativ­e was worse,” Comey said, echoing a rationale he has expressed in public. “And as between bad and worse, I had to choose bad.”

Comey also deflected responsibi­lity for relying on a Russiansou­rced memo alleging connection­s between Lynch and the Clinton campaign that may have been falsified. Comey said that to his knowledge, “at the time,” the memo was genuine — but that he did not “know whether that view has changed.”

Some of the questionin­g focused on current events. The former FBI director said he was “glad” to hear of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s cooperatio­n with the Mueller probe, and he disputed the president’s suggestion that he and Mueller were close friends.

“I admire the heck out of the man, but I don’t know his phone number, I’ve never been to his house, I don’t know his children’s names,” Comey said — though he later said he would “bet my life that Bob Mueller will do things the right way, the way we would all want, whether we’re Republican­s or Democrats, the way Americans should want.”

Comey also spoke favorably of William P. Barr, who Trump plans to nominate as the next attorney general — even as Democrats expressed concerns about past statements by Barr criticizin­g the special counsel’s investigat­ion of Trump and endorsing fresh scrutiny of Clinton.

“He’s certainly fit to be attorney general,” Comey said of Barr, declining to say whether Barr’s past comments warranted him recusing himself from overseeing Mueller’s probe. “I think very highly of him. Whether he should be involved in those particular cases or not is a question I can’t answer.”

Comey is expected to return to Capitol Hill to complete his testimony before the two panels Dec. 17.

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