WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas fired 16 questions at former FBI Director James Comey during Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, asking about Comey’s memo-writing practices and his conversations with President Donald Trump.
Afterward, Cotton said the testimony “did not add much to the facts that we know based on his written testimony yesterday and much that has already been reported.”
Allegations that former national security adviser Michael Flynn failed to report income or register as a foreign agent are “credible,” Cotton said. But they’re unrelated to the campaign, the Republican from Dardanelle added.
“To this date we still have seen no evidence that the president or any of his associates colluded with Russia or otherwise acted inappropriately, and I think it’s increasingly evident that there’s no evidence that Mike Flynn acted inappropriately during the transition or in speaking with the FBI,” Cotton said in an interview.
During Thursday’s questioning, Cotton pressed Comey for evidence of wrongdoing.
He quizzed Comey about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, asking him, “Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?”
Comey declined to say, telling Cotton: “That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that is a question that will be answered by the investigation, I think.”
In reply, Cotton pointed out that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had said she’d seen no sign of collusion.
Cotton also asked Comey about a Feb. 14 New York Times story, “Trump Campaign Aides Have Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.”
“Would it be fair to character that story as almost entirely wrong?” Cotton asked.
“Yes,” Comey replied.
At least five times during 7½ minutes of questioning, Comey opted not to fully answer Cotton’s queries, saying it would be inappropriate to do so in a public hearing.
Cotton and the other members of the committee subsequently met with Comey privately and got additional details.
During the nationally televised hearing, Cotton asked whether Comey had written memos documenting his interactions with other senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Comey said that he hadn’t.
Asked whether he’d prepared similar memos about his conversations with senior Justice Department officials in President Barack Obama’s administration, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey said: “No. Not that I recall.”
Cotton asked Comey whether he’d written a resignation letter after his interactions with Trump, noting that Comey had prepared a similar letter in the midst of a 2004 dispute.
Comey said he’d never considered resigning this time.
The May 9 firing sparked a firestorm, as did Trump’s subsequent explanations for the decision. On May 17, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named as special counsel to oversee “the FBI investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters.”
“Whatever you think about the decision to dismiss Director Comey, it’s clear that the president could have handled it in a better fashion,” Cotton said in the interview.
“If the president had simply expressed to Mr. Comey in the first days of his administration that he didn’t think he could any longer lead the FBI with bipartisan support across the nation because of the decisions he took related to Hillary Clinton’s email,” Democrats would’ve had little to talk about, he added.
Cotton, who didn’t take sides in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, has voiced strong support for Trump ever since the New Yorker claimed the party’s nomination.
In a story Thursday, The New York Times portrayed Cotton as an “executive life coach, coaxing the commander in chief toward discipline and conservative policy in the face of 140-character headwinds.”
And Cotton has developed a strong working relationship with Trump, traveling to the Executive Mansion to discuss immigration policy and other matters.
Tuesday, Cotton was one of a half-dozen Republican lawmakers who dined at the White House.
“We talked almost entirely about foreign policy,” Cotton said. “It was mostly members of Congress who were on the foreign affairs or armed services or intelligence committees.”
The lawmakers discussed Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and Belgium; his first since becoming president. They also discussed “some recent developments” including the decision by several Arab countries to sever ties with Qatar.
Thursday afternoon, the Democratic Party of Arkansas sent out a fundraising appeal that referred to Cotton and Trump as BFFs: Best Friends Forever.
It included a link to Thursday’s Times story.
“Cotton is putting his new best friend in Washington ahead of the interests of Arkansans back home. We deserve better,” it said.
In a telephone interview, state Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray said the senator seemed to be spouting Trump’s talking points.
“I think Sen. Cotton has kind of become the de facto coach or normalizer for the president or the messenger of the president,” he said.
It’s important to get the truth, Gray said.
“There needs to be a thorough investigation,” he said. “This isn’t about politics anymore, at all. This is about the trust in the government,” he said. “The American public needs to be able to walk away from this knowing that it wasn’t looked [at] through a partisan lens.”
A Section on 06/09/2017