Shortly before he was fired in May, then-FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee, where he answered questions about Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 election. This Thursday, he was back in Congress, this time to talk about Trump’s attempts to, in turn, meddle in that investigation.
Testifying under oath, Comey confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee what he’d apparently already communicated to the American public via The New York Times shortly after he was fired one month earlier: that President Trump had attempted to strong-arm him into dropping the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn. He suggested too that Trump has lied repeatedly about their interactions, and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have more Russia-related explaining still to do.
His testimony has ramifications for the investigations into the matter that are being conducted by the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller, and the House of Representatives.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the panel that’s leading that House probe, talked to Rolling Stone Friday about his reactions to the Comey testimony and what might come next for the president and his inner circle.
Did the former director’s testimony open up any new lines of inquiry for the House investigation?
I think it does broaden the purview of what we’ll need to do because, in addition to determining what tactics the Russians used to interfere in our political affairs as part of their active measures campaign, we’re going to need to find out if there has been any effort to interfere [with] or obstruct our investigation in any way.
I think we’re going to need to get the memoranda – we had already requested them from the FBI – that memorialized any conversations between the director and the president.
I think we’re also going to want to talk to the people around Director Comey at the FBI who might be able to corroborate his testimony, because in some cases they were in the room when he was on the phone with the president and at least can share one half of the conversation, as well as what the director related when he got off the phone, and in other cases they have contemporaneous accounts of what the director related when he came back from meetings at the White House.
We’ll also need to have the directors of National Intelligence, CIA and NSA testify in closed session about whether the president made any effort to press them into lobbying Comey to drop the Flynn case. Obviously, that would also strongly corroborate the director’s testimony. So these are some additional steps that we’re going to need to take.
What would you be attempting to establish by speaking to Comey’s former colleagues at the FBI – that the president lied?
It would establish that Director Comey’s testimony was accurate, and to the degree that the president contradicts it, that Director Comey’s account is more likely to be true.
Will you call Comey to testify before the House committee again?
We are interested in having him come back to the committee. We had requested his memoranda at first, and our expectation was that we were going to get the documents and we were going to have him back to the committee. But we are going to have him back. It would likely be in closed session since he’s already testified in open session. I’m not sure that it’s necessary to do that again. But we will want to have him back to the committee at some point.
Were there any questions that you wished were asked at Thursday’s hearing that weren’t?
Many of the questions I would have wanted to ask were asked. I would still have liked to get more detail about the meetings the president had with Director Comey. We certainly got some of the highlights of those meetings, but often it’s the details that can be very important in corroborating what took place during a meeting.
I would want the opportunity to drill down even further on everything that was said and who was present for what parts of the conversation. For example, the director, almost as an afterthought, [referred to a conversation] that was not itemized in his written testimony in which the president called about a week after their first meeting to say that he’d been thinking more about, essentially, the dossier. In thinking more about it, [Trump] wanted to affirm that it wasn’t true.
And I kind of was struck by the fact that it took the president a week to think about it before wanting to make that point, and in the same call the director said that the president told him what a great job he was doing. It was interesting to me that both of those points were made in the same conversation, and I would like to know more about it and whether it was a message being communicated about what the president thought was a good job the director was doing, and what connection that had to the dossier. So there are more details that I would like to get about each of those contacts.
What are the next steps for the House investigation?
We’ve sent out requests to numerous witnesses for documents now, and we’re going to be very shortly bringing the witnesses before the committee for interviews. We also continue to get documents from the intelligence agencies. They’ve been very forthcoming with our requests, but the documents are quite voluminous. We’re getting extraordinary access to some very sensitive materials but of course that leads to a lot of follow-up requests. What we anticipate over the next couple of months is a series of witness interviews, additional hearings – our next open hearing is with Jeh Johnson, who was one of three signatories to the October statement issued by the intelligence communities attributing the hacking to Russia and the highest levels of the Kremlin and that was the first administration statement about the Russia hack during the election. He was also the point person interacting with the states and is knowledgeable about Russian efforts to probe our elections infrastructure.