Almost a month after President Donald Trump fired him, former FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
Comey will reportedly claim that the president asked for his “loyalty” but that he “demurred.” A keeper of meticulous notes, Comey will also likely testify that the president asked him to drop the Michael Flynn investigation only days after the national security advisor was fired. “I hope you can let this go,” the president purportedly told Comey. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” (Here is Comey’s official opening statement, which confirms the above — but also confirms Trump’s contention that the FBI director had told him he wasn’t under investigation on three occasions.)
One imagines that special counsel Robert Mueller would not have agreed to allow Comey to testify publicly in the middle of ongoing investigation if the content of his testimony implicated the president in a criminal offense. Comey also won’t be able to shed light on the ongoing investigations. Still, there’s lots of anticipation out there. And there are a slew of questions Comey should answer.
For instance: As the former head of the FBI, do you believe your private conversation with the president rose to the level of obstruction of justice? Was it your impression that the president was speaking extemporaneously about an investigation, offering an opinion about its prospects and your actions, or do you believe he was demanding or insisting that the FBI drop the investigation into Michael Flynn?
Do you believe the president exhibited criminal intent?
Were there any other occasions in which the president brought up Flynn, or any other ongoing investigation of his campaign or administration officials? If so, what was the substance and tone of those conversations?
Did any of your superiors at the Justice Department ever do anything to inhibit your ability to investigate either Russian meddling or collusions charges? Did anyone in the Trump administration threaten to eliminate or constrain your funding, or stand in the way of any other material requests in conjunction with these investigations?
Did anyone hinder you in any way from gathering evidence about the administration or former campaign staff or associates of the president? Did any superiors ever threaten to fire you if you moved forward with the Russia meddling or collusion probes?
Do you believe your firing was an attempt to suppress the inquiry into Russian collusion charges? Did the firing change your view of the original conversation?
Why Didn’t You Quit If You Were Being Pressured?
If an FBI director feels his superiors are substantively interfering with an investigation, doesn’t he have a responsibility to resign or report the offense to his bosses? Does he have an ethical responsibility to make such an event known to the public?
In a May 8 oversight hearing, you were asked if an attorney general or senior officials at the Department of Justice had ever tried to halt an investigation. You said, quote: “Not in my experience. Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something like that without an appropriate purpose.” What would the appropriate response be?
And if the president’s comments were disturbing enough to necessitate your speaking to a Senate Committee publicly today, why wasn’t it important enough to impel you to quit or bring the information to the attention of your superiors or Congress at any time before you were fired? If an AG attempting to impede an investigation is a “big deal,” surely the president doing so would be a huge one. If not, why are you here today?
Did you, as The New York Times reported, share the specifics of that private conversation with other FBI officials? Was one of these people your one-time deputy, interim FBI Director Andrew McCabe? Because when asked by Sen. Marco Rubio during testimony about whether the investigation into Russian meddling had been “impeded, interrupted, stopped or negatively impacted” by your dismissal, McCabe said, quote, “Despite any changes in circumstance, any decisions,” the FBI’s work on all investigations goes on. He then went further and stated that there was “no effort to impede our investigations to date.”
Was his contention inaccurate?
Is it true, as the president stated in his May 9 letter, that you had notified him on three different occasions that he was not under investigation? If not, did you ever have any other discussions with the president about whom the Russian collusion probe was focusing on — or any other investigation? If so, is it normal procedure to engage in such conversations before an investigation is concluded?
Since there has been a special counsel appointed to investigate the entire matter, why did you not first give this information to Mueller then allow him to put your testimony into the context of his broader probe? As a matter of transparency, the American people would see all the evidence when his investigation was concluded. He can share pertinent testimony with congressional investigators, as well. What is the purpose of publicly testifying today?
Russia, FISA, Unmasking, and Leaks
During your time as FBI director, did you ever see any evidence that the Russians — or any other person funded by Russia; or for that matter, any other foreign entity — had been able to hack into the American voting apparatus to alter, distort, or undermine the presidential election in any way? If so, how?
Did you see any evidence of anyone tied to the Donald Trump campaign or that any of his organizations colluded or contacted known Russian or Russian-allied operatives in an attempt to meddle in the president election — say, hack the Democratic National Committee?
Did the Trump administration ever request that you be more aggressive in pursuing investigations into leaks of classified information? Did you follow through with these investigations? Did anyone ask to prioritize leak investigations over the Russia matter? Did the FBI, under your watch, have the resources to conduct both with equal vigor?
Can you tell us about the FBI’s relationship with Christopher Steele, the former British agent who authored the salacious, and since discredited, dossier that alleged collusion between Donald Trump and Russia? Did the FBI ever rely on Steele’s dossier to conduct their investigation? Did the FBI ever use this dossier to secure FISA warrants against members of the Trump campaign or administration? If so, was the FBI aware that Fusion GPS, the company that employed Steele, was allegedly working as unregistered agents on behalf of Vladimir Putin’s government at the same time the dossier was being compiled? Could you explain, why, as Sen. Chuck Grassley put it, there was a “startling lack of responsiveness” from the FBI to requests made by the Senate Judiciary Committee?
In your previous testimony, you claimed that any information gathered by the FBI without a warrant was “lawfully collected, carefully overseen and checked.” In a recently declassified ruling by the FISA court, however, we learned that the FBI has admitted to hundreds of violations of privacy-protecting minimization rules under your watch — including, among other things, illegally sharing raw intelligence with third parties and accessing intercepted attorney-client communications. Moreover, quote, “The Court is concerned about the FBI’s apparent disregard of minimization rules and whether the FBI is engaging in similar disclosures of raw Section 702 information that have not been reported.”
Why the discrepancy between your testimony and this finding?
In previous testimony, you also claimed that it was not uncommon for Obama administration officials to unmask the identities of American citizens who had been caught up in the incidental surveillance of monitored foreign agents. To your knowledge, have any of those unmaskings later been leaked to the press? Did you ever request that the identities of Trump campaign officials, transition team members, or family members be unmasked? If so, in what way did unmasking these people have foreign intelligence value? Have others ever leaked any information from any of those requests to the press?
Have you ever leaked, either personally or through an intermediary, classified information to the press?
Now for the Hillary Case
Although you’ve stated that knowing that the FBI may have affected the presidential election made you “mildly nauseous,” do you still believe that you had an ethical obligation to inform Congress when investigators turned up a cache of evidence relating to a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton? Do you still believe, as you testified previously, that Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling classified documents, including top secret ones?
Recent press reports claim that a secret document — one that may have been faked by the Russians — played a deciding role your handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. In past testimony, you asserted that it was Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s secret meeting with Bill Clinton on a tarmac that was “the capper” on moving forward for the sake of the bureau’s credibility. Can you please go through the thought process behind your letter and explain how big a role the allegedly fake email played in your decision?
Is it typically the role of the FBI director to preemptively offer his opinion on whether the DOJ should prosecute the focus of an investigation? Or is typically the role of investigators to collect evidence and hand it over to DOJ to make that decision? Why did you, in effect, publicly exonerate Hillary Clinton, making it impossible for the DOJ to prosecute her, when you’ve stated on numerous occasions that it is not the role of the FBI to determine whether someone is prosecuted?
In the past testimony, you’ve contended that the FBI treated both the Clinton and Trump-Russia investigations “consistently and under the same principles.” If, once the investigation into Russian collusion was concluded, you found no evidence that the president or his aides, although engaged in wronging, had any intent to help the Russians meddle in the election, would you have held a press conference recommending the DOJ not prosecute? Do you believe the next FBI director should do the same if he concludes likewise?