Lawmakers’ expectations varied as Capitol Hill braced for what promises to be a blockbuster event: Thursday’s testimony by former FBI director James Comey on the Russia probe and his interactions with President Donald Trump before he was fired last month.
“This is an investigation into potential treason, potential espionage, potential obstruction of justice. It’s very, very serious that we get it right,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said Tuesday.
Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is probing Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election, as well as any ties between Moscow and Trump’s inner circle. It will be his first public appearance since Trump abruptly dismissed him and reports surfaced that Comey had written memos detailing alleged pressure from the president to end the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“I want to know what transpired at [Comey’s] meetings with the president, with respect to the president asking him to lay off General Flynn,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
“The bottom line is the truth,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in a message to his constituents. “We don’t want to continue to have to rely on press reports or an anonymous source [regarding information Comey possesses]. I think it’s important to hear directly from him.”
On Wednesday, intelligence and Justice Department chiefs will testify on the law governing America’s collection of foreign intelligence. While not part of the Russia investigation, the hearing will provide an opportunity for lawmakers to ask Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about a memo he wrote that the White House initially cited as justification for Comey’s dismissal.
But it is Comey’s testimony that has Washington — and much of the nation — in rapt anticipation.
“I would not imagine Jim Comey would have agreed to come unless he had something important to say,” said independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who, at the same time, noted that the naming of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to lead the Russia probe could limit Comey’s ability to speak out in open committee.
“Jim Comey may feel constrained if Mueller doesn’t want his investigation to be carried out in public, at least this soon,” King said.
“I expect us [committee members] to ask him to be sure that we get all of the answers we need, not just the answers he [Comey] wants to give,” said Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.
Trump has said he fired Comey for poor performance, and reportedly labeled him a “nut job” in a conversation with Russian diplomats. Speaking Wednesday at the White House, Trump said, “I wish him luck.”
Rarely do congressional hearings garner a national audience, but Comey’s appearance is expected to be viewed by tens of millions of Americans on television and online. As members of a body often paralyzed by partisanship, senators said it is vital that Republicans and Democrats be seen working shoulder-to-shoulder in pursuit of the facts.
“We’re going to have an opportunity to ask him [Comey] questions and to do so in front of the American people in an open hearing,” Rubio said. “And so that’s an important moment for rule of law.”
“The greatest degree of bipartisanship [in the Russia probe] is very important,” Kaine said.