James Comey to testify before Senate Intelligence Committee over alleged Russian interference in US election

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Associated Press

Former FBI Director James Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate intelligence committee after Memorial Day.

President Trump and James Comey.

President Trump and James Comey.

Source: 1 NEWS

The committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, and the ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, announced today that Comey will testify in an open setting before the committee. The date of the hearing has not yet been set.

Burr says the committee wants to hear from Comey on his role in the development of the US intelligence agencies' assessment that Russia interfered in last year's election.

He says he hopes Comey's testimony will answer some of the questions that have arisen since Comey was suddenly dismissed last week by President Donald Trump.

Comey turned down an invitation to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

White House says there was 'no collusion'

The White House repeated its assertion that a "thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity."

It did not deny the New York Times report that Trump was critical of Comey to the Russians the day after he fired him.

The Times reported Trump noted the Russia investigation as he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak of his decision to fire Comey.

"I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job," the Times reported that Trump said during the May 10 meeting. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called the president's rhetoric part of his deal-making.

"By grandstanding and politicising the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia," Spicer said.

FILE - In this June 13, 2012, file photo then-FBI Director Robert Mueller listens as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller took office as FBI director in 2001 expecting to dig into drug cases, white-collar misdeeds and violent crime. A week later was Sept. 11. Overnight, his mission changed and Mueller spent the next 12 years wrestling the agency into a battle-hardened terrorism-fighting force. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Source: Associated Press

"The investigation would have always continued, and obviously the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations."

As for the separate report of a "person of interest" under investigation, the Washington Post said the senior White House adviser "under scrutiny" is someone close to the president but did not name the person.

Among Trump's senior White House advisers are several former campaign officials, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Kellyanne Conway.

In March, Kushner volunteered to answer lawmakers' questions about meetings he had with Russian officials during the transition.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would not discuss information provided in classified briefings and said the House Oversight committee had already asked for documents related to Comey's firing.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over federal investigation

Earlier this week, the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over the federal investigation in an effort to re-establish independence from the White House.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Congress overnight he stands by a memo he wrote bluntly criticising Comey.

FILE- In this March 7, 2017, file photo, then-Deputy Attorney General-designate Rod Rosenstein, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rosenstein has told members of Congress he stands by a memo he wrote that preceded the president's firing of FBI Director James Comey. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Deputy Attorney General-designate Rod Rosenstein.

Source: Associated Press

But he made clear it was not his intention for Trump or other White House officials to use the document to justify firing Comey, which is what they have done.

In closed-door meetings with lawmakers on Thursday and Friday, Rosenstein said he wrote the memo after Trump told him one day before the May 9 firing that he wanted to dismiss Comey. Rosenstein said that though he was personally fond of Comey, "I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader."

The Justice Department overnight released the text of Rosenstein's opening remarks for the briefings on Capitol Hill.

Trump has said he plans to nominate a new FBI director soon, but there was no announcement today.

The appointment of Mueller as special counsel has drawn generally favourable comments from Democrats and from some Republicans as well. But lawmakers at both congressional sessions expressed frustration that Rosenstein would say little in answer to their questions about his actions — or others' — before Comey's firing.

"There was considerable frustration in the room," said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a member of the Armed Services Committee.

"This renewed my confidence that we should not have confidence in this administration. I don't think (Rosenstein) did a lot to bolster our confidence in him today."

White House struggles since Comey's firing

The White House has struggled since Comey's firing to explain the chain of events that led to it and the Justice Department's involvement in that decision. Trump has insisted at times that the decision was his alone, but he also has pointed to the "very strong" recommendation from Rosenstein.

Rosenstein made it clear to the lawmakers that he drafted his memo only after Trump told him of his plans to dismiss the FBI director.

"My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination," he said. But he added, "I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it."

The memo focused on Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, particularly the FBI director's decision to divulge details to the public at various junctures during her presidential campaign against Trump. Rosenstein denounced that decision as "profoundly wrong and unfair."

Trump has reacted furiously to the appointment of a special counsel, a prosecutor with wide authority to investigate Russia's interference and other potential crimes uncovered. However, at a combative news conference yesterday, he fell short in trying to resolve questions about investigations into his campaign and his first four months in office.

Asked point-blank if he'd done anything that might merit prosecution or even impeachment, Trump said no — and then added of the lingering allegations and questions: "I think it's totally ridiculous. Everybody thinks so."

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