Comey tes­ti­fies: Law­mak­ers grill the ex-FBI chief in a closed ses­sion.

Ex-FBI di­rec­tor meets with joint House panel be­hind closed doors

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, JAC­QUE­LINE ALE­MANY AND ELLEN NAKASHIMA

For­mer FBI di­rec­tor James B. Comey met be­hind closed doors Fri­day with mem­bers of two House pan­els as part of a po­lit­i­cally fraught in­quiry into the con­duct of fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cials dur­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Trump cam­paign’s al­leged Rus­sia ties and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate email server while sec­re­tary of state.

The ses­sion, which lasted over six hours, is ex­pected to con­tinue on Dec. 17, Comey said, al­though a tran­script of his ex­changes with the pan­els thus far is still ex­pected to be re­leased over the week­end.

Law­mak­ers on the House Ju­di­ciary and Over­sight com­mit­tees pep­pered Comey with ques­tions on a range of top­ics, in­clud­ing the sub­stance of his memos con­cern­ing his in­ter­ac­tions with Pres­i­dent Trump, the de­tails of his fir­ing and his knowl­edge of the ori­gins of the FBI’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Comey was also asked about the con­duct of his for­mer FBI sub­or­di­nates Peter Str­zok and Lisa Page, who ex­changed anti-Trump text mes­sages while in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Trump cam­paign’s al­leged Rus­sia con­nec­tions and Clin­ton’s emails, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss a closed hear­ing.

But Comey emerged from the ses­sion com­plain­ing that ques­tions about the Rus­sia probe con­sti­tuted only a “teeny part” of the mem­bers’ ques­tions, which were mostly fo­cused on “Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails, for heaven’s sake.”

“I’m not sure we need to do this at all,” he con­tin­ued, “but I’m try­ing to re­spect the in­sti­tu­tion.”

The in­ter­view cov­ered many of the same top­ics that Comey has tes­ti­fied about in sev­eral pub­lic hear­ings to date and was sub­ject to many of the same lim­i­ta­tions the FBI has placed on other wit­nesses who have ap­peared be­fore the joint panel — in­clud­ing a re­quire­ment not to dis­cuss on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, much to the frus­tra­tion of the panel’s Repub­li­can mem­bers.

Rep. Dar­rel Issa (R-Calif.), a for­mer chair­man and re­tir­ing mem­ber of the Over­sight Com­mit­tee, said that an FBI lawyer in the in­ter­view room fre­quently blocked Comey from an­swer­ing cer­tain ques­tions “at the core of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” Comey, Issa added, “never seemed to ar­gue or even be a bit dis­ap­pointed when they told him he didn’t have to an­swer some­thing.”

Democrats re­jected that sug­ges­tion, say­ing that Comey an­swered most ques­tions — and that the tran­script would prove that.

The joint probe, which has been driven ex­clu­sively by Repub­li­cans, is hurtling to­ward a close by year’s end. That is when control of House com­mit­tees will trans­fer to Democrats, who are de­ter­mined to cur­tail or at least change the fo­cus of in­ves­ti­ga­tions that they say were de­signed to un­der­mine law en­force­ment agen­cies and the work of spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Speak­ing af­ter the hear­ing, Comey de­fended the ac­tions of law en­force­ment of­fi­cials and re­jected sug­ges­tions by Repub­li­can law­mak­ers that bias con­trib­uted to the FBI’s de­ci­sion to ap­ply to con­duct sur­veil­lance on for­mer Trump cam­paign ad­viser Carter Page. This week, Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (R-S.C.) said he also in­tends to look into whether the sur­veil­lance ap­pli­ca­tion process was con­ducted prop­erly when he takes over the chair­man­ship of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

Comey said he had “to­tal con­fi­dence” in the FBI “and that the en­tire case was han­dled in a thought­ful, re­spon­si­ble way.”

“The no­tion that FISA was abused here was non­sense,” he said, re­fer­ring to the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act.

Comey’s tes­ti­mony is pos­si­bly one of the last that the joint panel will hear. The for­mer FBI di­rec­tor ini­tially in­sisted on giv­ing pub­lic tes­ti­mony but agreed to the closed-door in­ter­view and to drop a le­gal chal­lenge to a sub­poena by House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte (R-Va.). Comey did so un­der the con­di­tion that a tran­script of the in­ter­view be re­leased within 24 hours of his tes­ti­mony, he an­nounced via a tweet ear­lier this week.

“This is the clos­est I can get to pub­lic tes­ti­mony,” Comey wrote.

For­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Loretta E. Lynch, whom Good­latte also sub­poe­naed last month, is ex­pected to ap­pear for a closed­door in­ter­view within the next week.

The in­ter­views with Comey and Lynch are not likely to sat­isfy sev­eral Repub­li­can mem­bers of the pan­els who are closely al­lied with Trump. They are far more in­ter­ested in an­other round of ques­tion­ing with Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod J. Rosen­stein.

Law­mak­ers such as Reps. Mark Mead­ows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jor­dan (R-Ohio), who is set to be­come the Over­sight Com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Repub­li­can next year, want to ask Rosen­stein to ex­plain com­ments that he re­port­edly made to col­leagues suggest­ing that they record con­ver­sa­tions with Trump and pos­si­bly seek to re­move him from of­fice us­ing pro­ce­dures out­lined in the 25th Amend­ment.

Jor­dan and Mead­ows also have sought to im­peach Rosen­stein, ac­cus­ing him of not com­ply­ing with Congress’s de­mands for in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the FBI and the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Trump cam­paign and Clin­ton.

But with lit­tle time left be­fore Congress dis­bands for the year, it is un­clear whether law­mak­ers will take any fur­ther steps to bring Rosen­stein back for an in­ter­view.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

James B. Comey, cen­ter, with his at­tor­ney, David Kel­ley, left, ar­rives Fri­day on Capi­tol Hill. Comey said af­ter his ses­sion with law­mak­ers that the Rus­sia probe con­sti­tuted only a “teeny part” of the mem­bers’ ques­tions and that most were about “Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails.”

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