It’s been nearly a month since President Trump fired former FBI Director James B. Comey. In the weeks since, the FBI has intensified its investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and the possibility that it coordinated with people in Trump’s campaign. Public interest has been keen on Trump’s reasons for firing the FBI chief.
On Thursday, Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. How many questions will be fully answered remains unclear. What’s certain is that all of Washington, and the rest of the country, will wait with bated breath.
Here’s what you need to know about Comey’s testimony.
Why is Comey going back in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee? Hasn't he testified twice already this year?
During a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael S. Rogers confirmed that the FBI was investigating Russia’s possible coordination with people in the Trump campaign. That same day, Trump dismissed the story as “fake news.”
Comey and Rogers also testified that they had no evidence to back Trump’s claims that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
In May, just days before Comey was fired, he testified before a Senate Intelligence Committee and defended how he handled the FBI’s investigation during the campaign into Hillary Clinton’s email practices while she was secretary of State. In that hearing, he repeated that the FBI was continuing to investigate Trump associates’ possible coordination with Russia.
But a lot has happened since then.
This latest testimony will focus on parts of the story that have become public since Trump fired Comey.
What's happened since the last time he testified?
Besides the fact that Comey was fired? Quite a bit, actually.
The White House changed stories several times about why Trump fired Comey. First, officials said Trump had acted on the recommendation of Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, who objected to how Comey had handled the Clinton investigation. Then they said that the rank and file of the FBI had lost faith in Comey. But in an interview with NBC, Trump said that he had made up his mind to fire Comey before he met with Rosenstein and that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he did so.
More questions were raised when Trump implied that he had tapes of his meetings with Comey.
But the climax came two weeks after Comey’s firing when people close to the former FBI chief revealed that a memo he wrote after a meeting with Trump in February described Trump asking him to drop the investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
A day later, Rosenstein named former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.
All the while, Trump has continued to call that investigation a distraction from more important matters.
What do senators want to find out from Comey?
Everything they can involving the Russia investigation and Trump’s directives to Comey. Questions that are likely to be posed include:
- What are the details of the meeting between Trump and Comey?
- Did Trump demand Comey’s loyalty, as reports have suggested?
- Did Comey find any evidence that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia?
Will Comey’s testimony be given publicly?
Yes and no. Comey will give public testimony Thursday morning, followed by a closed-door session to discuss classified matters.
So, can he answer all questions — or would that get in the way of Mueller’s investigation?
Comey is expected to refuse to answer any questions that could interfere with Mueller’s investigation.
The two men met last week about what Comey can and cannot address during the public hearing. But silence can often speak louder than words. Whatever is left unsaid could give the senators — and the public — some clues about which topics Mueller’s investigation is covering.
There's been talk that the White House might try to prevent Comey from testifying. What's that about?
On Monday, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump will not be invoking executive privilege to stop Comey from testifying.
Despite the will-he-or-won’t-he story line, several legal experts had called the possibility of using a claim of executive privilege to block Comey’s testimony nearly impossible. The president can try to use an executive privilege claim to stop a government official from testifying to Congress. But Comey is no longer a government official since Trump fired him. A president’s power over a private citizen is limited.
Can information he provides be used to prosecute other people?
Presumably, Comey has already told FBI agents what he's planning to tell Congress, so it's unlikely that he'll be adding information that would be new to the criminal investigation. If he does disclose new information about potential criminal wrongdoing, however, his statements could help lead to prosecutions. One key question will be whether his account suggests that Trump or any other officials tried to actually interfere with the FBI investigation, which could be the basis of an obstruction of justice charge.
How can I watch?
Most major networks will air the testimony, including ABC, CBS, PBS and CNN. Additionally, the Los Angeles Times will live-stream it on Facebook and share it on the Essential Washington live blog starting at 7 a.m. PT.
Anything happening in the meantime?
The day before Comey testifies, Rosenstein, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Rogers are scheduled to testify about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before the Senate committee during back-to-back public and closed-door sessions.
Questions? Comments? Tweet @cshalby or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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