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The Riggs Report: The Comey showdown

June 8, 2017

Thursday’s Senate appearance of former FBI director draws intense interest

There’s nothing like a good political scandal to focus the mind. Or, in this case, to focus the public’s attention on the unfolding drama in Washington, D.C., that centers on whether President Donald Trump sought to influence an FBI investigation of alleged election-tampering by the Russians.

It’s no small thing when a former director of the FBI testifies before Congress about conversations with the president that made him so uneasy that he felt compelled to document what was said in a series of memos.

According to The New York Times, in one of those memos written by former FBI Director James Comey, Trump told Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” referring to an FBI investigation of then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his interactions with Russian officials.

Comey was fired by Trump last month. His testimony Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee marks the first time he will have spoken publicly about his meetings with the president and their conversations about the Russia probe.

Advance copies of his planned remarks have helped fuel what was already intense media interest in the case. Thursday’s hearing is expected to be one of the most-watched committee events in years.

Just how impactful Comey’s testimony is will depend on how far he is willing to go in answering a key question: did the president’s behavior rise to the level of obstruction of justice?

Sources are telling news outlets that Comey will seek to avoid offering an opinion on that question; that he believes it’s a political judgment that should be made by others.

What Comey intends to talk about, according to the released remarks, is that Trump asked him repeatedly—in person and on the phone—to announce publicly that he was not being investigated by the FBI and was not a target of a case that was looking into contacts between Russian officials and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

Trump told him the issue was “a cloud” that was detracting from his ability to govern effectively.

Trump also sought several times to secure a pledge of loyalty, according to Comey’s remarks.

The White House’s nomination on Wednesday of Christopher Wray, who once headed the Justice Department’s criminal division, to be the new FBI director was no accident of timing.

It was meant to address questions about the FBI’s direction, ahead of Thursday’s showdown—smart move, but it won’t overshadow the interest in Comey’s high-profile testimony about the president’s behavior.