Former FBI Director James Comey is set to testify in private Friday to Republican lawmakers scrutinizing his 2016 recommendation that Hillary Clinton not be prosecuted for using a private email server and for his handling of an unverified dossier of allegations against Donald Trump.
With Republicans losing control of House committee subpoena power in January, the Comey questioning is part of a dash to wrap up their long-running examination of whether FBI and Justice Department investigative priorities were tainted by political bias during that year’s presidential campaign.
Democrats have decried the GOP-led probe as unwarranted and they’ve criticized House Republicans for prematurely shutting down a more bipartisan inquiry into Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
Comey, who was fired by Trump in May 2017, initially contested a subpoena from the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, saying he wanted a public hearing because he was worried someone would leak distorted depictions of what he said.
But he dropped his court motion after Republicans agreed to release a transcript of the session quickly.
“Grateful for a fair hearing from judge. Hard to protect my rights without being in contempt, which I don’t believe in. So will sit in the dark, but Republicans agree I’m free to talk when done and transcript released in 24 hours. This is the closest I can get to public testimony,” he tweeted on Sunday.
Lawmakers from the Judiciary panel, as well as the Oversight and Government Reform Committee -- also plan to interview former Attorney General Loretta Lynch before Democrats take over the House majority in January.
Some Republicans, including Mark Meadows, who chairs the Oversight subcommittee on government operations, have said they are focused on Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case -- specifically, his July 2016 decision to publicly announce that he wouldn’t recommend any charges related to her private email server use while she was secretary of state.
Alongside that, they are looking into the motivations behind the FBI’s and Justice Department’s decision to launch an investigation into alleged Russian ties to Republican Trump’s campaign. That has since evolved into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia probe.
Going into the Friday interview, Republicans said they planned to press Comey on whether he engaged in greater coordination than he acknowledged in congressional testimony last year between himself, Lynch and Barack Obama’s White House when he recommended against referring Clinton for prosecution.
Comey later sent a letter to Congress announcing the investigation was reopened on Oct. 28, 2016 -- days before the election -- after the FBI found evidence of previously undiscovered emails. A Justice Department inspector general’s review has since concluded that Comey didn’t act out of bias in his actions, but “chose to deviate” from established procedures and engaged “in his own subjective, ad hoc decisionmaking.”
Republicans also want to question Comey on the FBI’s dealings and use of a dossier that claimed to document ties between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign. The dossier’s author, former former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, gave his findings to the FBI in the summer and fall of 2016 before his relationship with the agency as a confidential source was terminated for alleged contact with the media.
Meadows and others have questioned why Comey may have left out some facts in early 2017 when he briefed Trump on the document, including that the work was funded in part by Democrats.
The FBI and Justice Department officials also have drawn scrutiny for using the dossier to bolster its applications to a national security court for a warrant to conduct surveillance on a Trump campaign aide.
The top Democrat on the committee, Jerrold Nadler of New York, still believes the questioning should have been done in a public hearing, his spokesman, Daniel Schwarz, said Thursday. Democrats were planning to take part in the interview and are expected to counter Republicans with their own questions.
Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte has confirmed a transcript will be released publicly, but has stopped short of saying within 24 hours, saying only, "as soon as possible."