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Comey to testify again in 2 weeks; Republicans claim DOJ lawyer blocked answers

Former FBI Director James Comey, with his attorney, David Kelley, left, arrive to testify under subpoena behind closed doors before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. . (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey arrived on Capitol Hill Friday morning to answer questions on his role in the origins of the Russia investigation and he is expected to return for a follow-up hearing in two weeks.

House Republicans subpoenaed Comey over Thanksgiving, demanding he appear before the Judiciary and Oversight Committees for a closed-door deposition. The former FBI director wanted to testify in public but struck an agreement with the committee chairmen that they would publish a transcript within 24 hours of the deposition.

Comey agreed to return Dec. 17 but doubted the necessity of the follow-up hearing.

"After a full day of questioning, two things are clear to me," he told reporters before leaving the Capitol. "One, we could have done this in open setting, and two, when you read the transcript you will see that we're talking again about Hillary Clinton's emails, for heaven's sake. So I'm not sure we need to do this at all."

After six hours before Congress, Comey said he doesn't know what remaining questions Republicans might have. "Maybe they'll reconsider," he said.

James Comey was accompanied Friday by two attorneys, a personal lawyer and a lawyer representing the Department of Justice and FBI.

Republicans requested the follow-up hearing after they claimed the Justice Department frustrated lawmakers' attempts to get information.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the attorney invoked "vague" privileges to prevent Comey from responding.

Comey was "instructed" by the DOJ lawyer not to answer "a great many questions that are clearly items at the core of our investigation," Issa told reporters.

The transcript of the interview will clarify when the Justice Department counsel invoked privileges. Comey explained, "The FBI, for understandable reasons, doesn't want me talking about the details of the investigation that is still ongoing."

Comey was responsible for initiating the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign ties to the Russian government in July 2016. That investigation evolved into the current, ongoing special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller. Trump's firing of Comey prompted Mueller's appointment in May 2017.

Other lawmakers argued the government attorney only stepped in a few times during the first two hours of the deposition and put reasonable limits on Comey's discussion of "sensitive information" that could impact the Mueller investigation.

"I was left with the impression that he answered the questions he had to answer," said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.

The Justice Department rarely releases information related to an ongoing investigation and has previously blocked Congress from obtaining documents and oral testimony related to Mueller's probe.

"Throughout our transcribed interviews with multiple witnesses we believe the FBI has objected to a number of questions that should have been answered," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. told reporters.

Friday was Comey's first appearance on Capitol Hill since he testified before both the House and Senate after being fired. At that time, Comey admitted to leaking memos detailing his private conversations with President Trump "because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel."

Comey also memorialized his interactions with Trump in a book, "Higher Loyalty," that discussed his involvement in the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton email investigation.

The FBI's alleged interference in Comey's deposition Friday guaranteed the clash between the outgoing Republican majority and the Justice Department.

"One of the things that clearly is going to have to happen is the Department of Justice is going to have to agree to allow him to come back and answer a great many questions he is currently not answering," Rep. Issa said before Comey had agreed to come back.

It is still unclear whether the Justice Department will allow Comey to answer certain questions when he returns in two weeks.

The Judiciary and Oversight Committee members are also demanding testimony from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to address his alleged desire to record President Trump and incidents of anti-Trump bias within the FBI and DOJ.

Republicans are quickly running out of time to wrap up their probe. The House is scheduled to recess at the end of next week and will not reconvene until January when the Democrats take control.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he will shut down the GOP's investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation.

The committee's new leadership will be focused on protecting Robert Mueller and ensuring his final report is available to the public.

If there is an attempt by Trump to "prematurely end" Mueller's investigation, Democrats are prepared to launch their own, Krishnamoorthi said. "In that case, Mueller might be a witness, Comey might be a witness. There might be any number of witnesses."

Comey agreed to come back and testify before Congress when Democrats take control, saying, "If they want me to testify and we can do it in a responsible way, I will abide."

President Trump weighed in ahead of Comey's appearance on Capitol Hill accusing him of "lying and leaking." Trump further claimed the former FBI director is "Best Friends" with Special Counsel Mueller. and announced his administration would be releasing a "major Counter Report" to challenge the special counsel's findings.

Comey urged American to "not become numb to attacks on the rule of law" and described the president's comments about the Justice Department and FBI "deeply troubling." He further applauded the special counsel investigation saying it is "proceeding incredibly quickly and very, very professionally."

The second round of questions, scheduled for Dec. 17 will likely follow the same format as the Friday closed-door deposition. "I wish it were going to be public," Comey said. The initial request for an open hearing was motivated by Comey's concerns about Republicans selectively leaking parts of his testimony. The transcript of Comey's deposition is scheduled to be released Saturday.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., claimed Comey's concerns about leaking were "very hypocritical," citing Comey's leak of a series of memos. The memos described worrying interactions he had with the president, including Trump allegedly requesting Comey's loyalty and asking the FBI director to "let go" of an investigation into former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Meadows explained the decision not to allow Comey to testify publicly, telling reporters that the committee has "consistently" interviewed witnesses in private. "So to treat Director Comey any differently than we have dozens of other witnesses would be giving him a special pass that I don't think he deserves," he added.

Over the past year, roughly 17 witnesses have been called before the joint Judiciary and Oversight Committees to discuss the origins of the Russia investigation, improper government surveillance and political bias at the Justice Department.

Republicans believed Comey's testimony would be important for both verifying other witnesses' statements and determining whether there was systemic anti-Trump bias throughout the DOJ that may have influenced the broader Russia investigation. They are also interested in why Comey authorized surveillance on Trump campaign associates when he was director of the FBI.

Democrats have repeatedly said that the GOP-led task force is aimed at discrediting the Mueller investigation and is a waste of time.

"It's been a rerun of the same questions and answers through multiple interviews," Rep. Krishnamoorthi said. The congressman said he brought a copy of "Higher Loyalty" to the hearing. "I'm hoping to get a signed copy to auction off to pay for this wasteful investigation."

Lawmakers were prepared for a long session and some came with pages of questions for the ousted FBI director. The hearings lasted roughly six hours.


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