What to expect when Comey meets with the House Intelligence Committee
March 20, 2017 7:35 AM
YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on September 27, 2016 shows FBI Director James Comey as he testifies during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
By Michael S. Schmidt / The New York Times
Washington once again will be watching on Monday to see how far James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, will go in discussing the sensitive investigation into Russia’s election meddling.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee have summoned Mr. Comey and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, as the panel tries to respond to President Trump’s insistence that President Barack Obama had him wiretapped at Trump Tower during the campaign.
The panel — which is leading an investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election — also wants to press Mr. Comey and Admiral Rogers to answer questions about what they have found in the course of the federal investigation into connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and any contacts they may have had with Russia.
Here’s how the hearing may play out:
Wiretap? What Wiretap?
In the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s Twitter storm three weeks ago in which he accused Mr. Obama of wiretapping him, Mr. Comey pushed senior Justice Department officials to publicly reject Mr. Trump’s claim, since Mr. Comey believed that Mr. Trump had falsely insinuated that the F.B.I. had broken the law. But Justice Department officials declined to go along with his request.
Mr. Comey will be in a tricky spot as he tries to navigate questions about the continuing investigation. In January, Mr. Comey said he “would never comment on investigations — whether we have one or not — in an open forum like this” when asked whether the bureau had investigated links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have been briefed in classified settings by Mr. Comey have said there is no evidence that Mr. Obama had Mr. Trump wiretapped.
A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment on what Mr. Comey will say on Monday. But our guess is that Mr. Comey will answer the question about the wiretap, saying that it does not exist. Discussing something publicly that doesn’t exist is much easier than talking openly about classified information.
What Else Will Comey Say?
It’s harder to predict how far Mr. Comey will go in discussing other details about the investigation — or if he will even confirm that the F.B.I. is investigating Mr. Trump’s associates.
Mr. Comey has shown a flair for the dramatic and a willingness to be more forthcoming publicly than most government officials. Last July, he held a news conference to announce that the bureau was not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton in connection to her use of a private email account, but he went on at some length about her misdeeds. Democrats have blasted Mr. Comey’s decision, saying it was inappropriate, violated Justice Department guidelines and unfairly maligned Mrs. Clinton.
So far, the bureau has not publicly acknowledged the existence of the investigation into the connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Typically, F.B.I. officials do not discuss developing investigations. But at times when the press has reported about an investigation at length, the officials will acknowledge the existence of an inquiry. The panel would like to examine the evidence that the bureau has obtained, but Mr. Comey may tell lawmakers that they cannot see it until his investigation is over.
If Mr. Comey acknowledges the investigation, it could balloon into a scandal for the still-young Trump administration.
What May Lawmakers Ask Him?
Republicans want Mr. Comey to explain what the F.B.I. is doing to investigate leaks of sensitive national security matters that have surfaced about Mr. Trump’s associates since Election Day. The panel’s chairman, Devin Nunes, Republican of California and an official on the Trump transition team, has said that the panel will focus on the leaks.
“The one crime we know that’s been committed is that one,” Mr. Nunes said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the disclosure of classified information. “That is a crime that’s been committed. We don’t know the answer to that. That’s what we’re trying to get to the bottom of. Were there any other names that were unmasked, leaked and leaked out? We just don’t know that yet.”
Who Will Sit Next to Comey?
Riding shotgun next to Mr. Comey will be Admiral Rogers, who, as the head of the N.S.A., oversees the government’s wiretapping programs.
Admiral Rogers may be more reserved in what he says. During the transition, he was a leading candidate to be Mr. Trump’s director of national intelligence, a position that ultimately went to former Senator Dan Coats. Senior national security officials during the Obama administration had recommended that Mr. Obama fire Admiral Rogers, accusing him of poor leadership.
What About the Clinton Emails?
Since Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Comey has not publicly addressed his decision in late October to inform Congress that the F.B.I. was examining a new trove of emails related to Mrs. Clinton’s private server. Democrats have contended that Mr. Comey’s decision helped cost Mrs. Clinton the election.
Mr. Comey has not publicly addressed the issue, and it’s not clear whether Democratic lawmakers — who want to use the hearing to heighten attention on Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia — will use their time to discuss emails.
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