WASHINGTON — Former FBI director James Comey has been invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee during a closed hearing next Tuesday following his sudden and surprising ouster from his post, committee leaders said.
President Trump’s Tuesday decision to fire Comey as he led a counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government has raised questions on Capitol Hill about the president’s motives.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested that Comey could personally confirm that he had asked the Justice Department for additional resources to advance the ongoing investigation. That request came shortly before his firing.
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Director Comey to come in and testify to that issue?’’ Warner said Wednesday.
The Senate’s Democratic leader, Charles Schumer of New York, pressed Republicans on Wednesday to convene a closed-door briefing with the attorney general and his deputy to answer urgent questions about the president’s decision.
“There are a great many outstanding questions about the circumstances of Comey’s dismissal,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.
Schumer said he wanted two private and possibly classified briefings for all senators, where they could separately grill Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his top deputy, Rod Rosenstein.
Schumer’s request for a classified briefing was a “surprise” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will need more information about his request before he’s ready to comment on it, said Don Stewart, McConnell's spokesman.
But McConnell, in his own remarks opening the Senate for legislative business on Wednesday, he accused Democrats of hypocrisy for objecting to Comey’s firing.
McConnell noted that many Democrats were furious with Comey for his handling of the investigation into former secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Some Democrats had previously called for Comey’s resignation after the FBI chief’s public remarks about Clinton probe, saying his move was at least partly responsible for Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential race to Donald Trump.
Comey was removed “for many of the reasons (Democrats) consistently complained about,” McConnell said.
But Schumer and other Democrats expressed deep skepticism about the Trump administration’s explanations for Comey’s firing. Comey was leading a probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the outcome.
In the wake of Comey's firing, Democrats have ramped up their calls for a special prosecutor to be appointed for that investigation — a move that McConnell and other Republicans have dismissed as unnecessary.
McConnell said opening a new probe would “only serve to impede the current work being done” by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Comey had been scheduled to testify before the Intelligence panel on Thursday, and Democrats said he should still appear so he can answer questions about the status of the FBI’s probe and its potential connection to his dismissal.
“It’s extremely important that Mr. Comey come to an open hearing in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as quickly as possible and testify as to the status of the U.S-Russian investigation at the time of his firing,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the panel.
Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he was not sure yet who would testify in Comey’s place on Thursday but he hoped the acting FBI director, Andrew G. McCabe, would appear.
Burr reiterated his concerns about Trump’s decision to fire Comey and it would complicate but not stop the Senate investigation.
“The timing of this and the reasoning for it doesn’t make sense to me,” Burr said of Comey’s ouster.
Vice President Pence, during a visit to the Capitol on Wednesday, defended Comey’s firing. “Right decision, right time,” Pence said as he walked past reporters outside the Senate chamber.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it is “incumbent” upon the White House to pick a new FBI chief who can win bipartisan support.
“It has to be someone who people on both sides of the aisle will have a lot of faith in,” Corker said. “The ball’s in their court right now … to bring forth someone who all quarters will say is the right person at this particular time in our history.”