Five things lawmakers want to know from Comey

Former FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify this week before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a blockbuster open hearing that is sure to be a media circus. 

The hearing is expected to center on the circumstances of Comey’s dismissal. The White House has given shifting explanations for his firing, while media reports and President Trump’s own statements have fueled suspicions that the decision was politically motivated. 

Here are five questions lawmakers are likely to pose during Comey’s testimony. 

Did Trump pressure you to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn?

A series of explosive media reports after Comey’s dismissal suggested that Trump pressured him to ease up on the bureau’s investigation of Russian election meddling — a probe that includes a look at potential coordination between Russia and Trump campaign officials.

Comey reportedly wrote a memo detailing a meeting where Trump asked him to call off the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in February.

“I hope you can let this go,” Comey recorded being told by Trump, according to the memo, as reported by the New York Times.

Congress has yet to see Comey’s memos about his meetings with Trump, with the FBI so far declining a request from the House Oversight Committee to supply them.

Senators will be hungry for more details about Comey’s conversations with the president about Flynn and other aspects of the Russia probe — and any related pressure he may have felt.

“What exactly did the president say? Because intent is everything,” said Mark Zaid, a lawyer who specializes in national security cases. “And two — how did Comey interpret what he was saying?” 

Did Trump demand your loyalty as FBI director? 

Media outlets have also reported that the president summoned Comey to the White House for dinner and then used the occasion to demand his loyalty — a request the FBI director is said to have rebuffed.

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Trump in an interview with Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro denied demanding Comey’s loyalty, though he added, “I don’t think it would be a bad question to ask.”

He also issued a cryptic threat shortly after the reports about his meetings with the FBI director, tweeting “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

The White House has refused to comment on whether Trump taped his conversations with Comey.

Do you believe that the president’s actions were obstruction of justice? 

Some Democrats have argued that the dismissal of Comey, if intended to stifle the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign, would amount to obstruction of justice — potentially an impeachable offense.

National security law experts say that such a case would be exceedingly difficult to make. It would center on pinning down the president’s motives, which can be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Trump reportedly told Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting last month that Comey’s dismissal eased “pressure” on him related to the investigation. 

Lawmakers are sure to press Comey on whether he interpreted his communications with the president as a presidential directive to shut down the investigation.

That line of questioning could put Comey in a tight spot.

If he says he does believe the president was trying obstruct his investigation, it will raise questions about why he didn’t speak out at the time, said Bob Ray, a former federal prosecutor who was head of the Office of the Independent Counsel during the Whitewater investigation of Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFive things lawmakers want to know from Comey Dems want Hillary Clinton to leave spotlight Huckabee: ‘Hillary needs to get over herself’ MORE.

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“The reasonable retort to that is, if you really thought this was an effort to obstruct your investigation, why didn’t you blow the whistle on it? Why didn’t you resign? Why didn’t report this to Congress?” Ray said.

Are you aware of other attempts by the president to push back on the Russia investigation? 

The Washington Post reported that Trump unsuccessfully appealed to Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDan CoatsFive things lawmakers want to know from Comey Rosenstein to testify next week Top Dem requests records from intel leaders on Trump-Russia talks MORE and NSA Director Mike Rogers to publicly deny the existence of evidence showing collusion between his campaign and Russia. 

The reported incidents are said to have occurred in March, after Comey publicly disclosed for the first time that the bureau was investigating contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. 

Coats has refused to confirm or deny the report, saying that doing so would be inappropriate.

Comey could face questions about his knowledge of any efforts by the president to influence the Russia investigation — including those involving intelligence officials other than himself. 

Lawmakers have already sought records of the president’s communications with both Coats and Rogers, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sending letters to both intelligence chiefs asking for documentation. The appeal made to Rogers was reportedly accounted for in an internal NSA memo. 

Have you seen any evidence of collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia?

The White House has repeatedly pointed to a lack of available evidence of collusion between Trump campaign associates and Moscow as reason to believe that the federal investigation — opened in July — will turn up nothing. 

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Former CIA Director John Brennan cast doubt on that assertion last month when he testified that he had seen intelligence showing contacts between associates of the Trump campaign and Russian officials that concerned him. 

“I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee. 

Now, Comey is sure to face questions about any evidence he viewed of collusion during his time spearheading the bureau’s probe. 

But it is unlikely that Comey will comment on details about the investigation, which is now being led by Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel by the Justice Department. 

“I’m confident that Comey and Mueller have agreed on some strict parameters so that Comey doesn’t compromise the investigation, though Comey would have been unlikely to discuss details of the investigation anyway,” said Matthew Waxman, a Columbia Law professor and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if people come away disappointed in the lack of how salacious his testimony might be,” Zaid said.

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