Let Comey talk, president urged by both parties – Arkansas Online

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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties are urging President Donald Trump not to stand in the way of fired FBI Director James Comey, who is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

Comey, ousted last month amid the FBI’s Russia investigation, is set to testify Thursday in a public hearing that is expected to shed light on his private conversations with Trump in the weeks before his dismissal, including one discussion in which Trump purportedly asked Comey to drop an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his Russian contacts.

“Clearly, it would be very, very troubling if the president of the United States is interfering in investigations that affect potentially the president and his closest associates,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said invoking executive privilege would be on “shaky legal ground” and stressed that Comey deserved to have his “day in court” after repeated attacks by Trump and reports of undue pressure.

While acknowledging no “smoking gun at this point,” Warner said he wants “to know what kind of pressure, appropriate, inappropriate, how many conversations he had with the president about this topic.”

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The Senate Intelligence Committee also has invited top spy and law enforcement officials to testify Wednesday at a hearing about the federal law governing foreign intelligence collection. Warner said he intended to use that time to ask Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers about reports that Trump had urged them to say publicly there was no collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also are expected to testify.

“I want to ask those individuals directly, ‘Did they have that kind of pressure?'” Warner said, referring to Coats and Rogers.

There’s been no final decision as to whether Trump would invoke executive privilege, and the matter remains under discussion, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Trump is known to change his mind on major issues.

For Thursday’s hearing, Trump could invoke executive privilege by arguing that discussions with Comey pertained to national security and that he had an expectation of privacy in getting candid advice from top aides. But legal experts say Trump likely undermined those arguments because he publicly discussed the conversations in tweets and interviews. Trump’s argument in favor of privilege also may be overcome because the investigation is focused on corruption and possible obstruction of justice.

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In his May 9 letter firing Comey, Trump said the former FBI director had informed him “on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.” Trump later tweeted: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Trump also said in an interview that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the intelligence committee, said Comey’s testimony would be critical to address mounting questions about possible obstruction of justice.

“Sooner rather than later, let’s find out what happened and bring this to a conclusion. You don’t do that, I think, by invoking executive privilege on a conversation you had apparently with nobody else in the room,” the Missouri Republican said. “At some point, we’ll hear the president’s side. But I frankly think we need to hear Mr. Comey’s side and find out what other questions we need to ask.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, also a member of the committee, said she had several questions for Comey in light of various public statements about the ongoing FBI probe, including Trump’s claim that the FBI director had said that Trump was not the subject of an investigation.

“Does Mr. Comey agree that that is what was said? Why would he tell the president that?” Collins asked.

She also cited McCabe’s testimony to the Senate panel last month that “there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” which appears to conflict with subsequent news accounts of Comey’s memo detailing a conversation in which Trump allegedly asked him to back off the Flynn probe.

The intelligence committee has asked to review that memo and any other notes Comey put together on his private meetings with Trump, although Warner said that would likely have to be cleared by Robert Mueller, another former FBI director now overseeing the bureau’s investigation as special counsel.

“The tone, the exact words that were spoken and the context are so important,” Collins said. “And we can only get that by talking to those directly involved.”

Warner spoke on CNN’s State of the Union and CBS’ Face the Nation, Collins also spoke on CBS and Blunt appeared on Fox News Sunday.

Putin interview

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he barely interacted with Flynn at a dinner in Moscow in 2015. The two sat next to each other at the dinner.

The Russian leader said that at the anniversary party for Russian television network RT in December 2015, his interactions with Flynn were brief and superficial, according to a partial transcript of an interview conducted Friday in Moscow by NBC that aired Sunday night. Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was paid $45,000 to speak at the event.

“When I came to the event for our company, Russia Today, and sat down at the table, next to me there was a gentleman sitting on one side,” Putin said. Photos show Putin flanked by Flynn and Emir Kusturica, a Serbian filmmaker.

“I made my speech. Then we talked about some other stuff. And I got up and left. And then afterwards I was told, ‘You know there was an American gentleman. He was involved in some things. He used to be in the security services.’ That’s it. I didn’t even really talk to him. … That’s the extent of my acquaintance with Mr. Flynn,” Putin said.

Flynn has become a central figure in investigations by Congress and the FBI into possible ties between Russia, the Trump administration and the Trump campaign.

An adviser to Trump’s campaign and prominent speaker at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Flynn was fired less than four weeks after Trump’s inauguration after claims that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., during the presidential transition.

Information for this article was contributed by Hope Yen and Julie Pace of The Associated Press and by Jordan Robertson of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 06/05/2017