White House will not block Comey testimony; televised hearing set for Thursday

UPDATE — 2:30 p.m. EDT: A written version of James Comey’s opening remarks posted online shows the former FBI director will testify to the Senate Thursday that President Trump attempted to interfere in the federal investigation of Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.

“‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,'” Comey quoted Trump as saying during a private conversation.

At a White House dinner in January, Comey also says Trump told him: “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”

“I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the
awkward silence that followed,” Comey explained. “We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.”

 

As the nation braces for former FBI director James Comey‘s appearance in front of the Senate’s intelligence committee scheduled for Thursday, the White House has stated President Trump will not attempt to prevent Comey from offering testimony.

In advance of Mr. Comey’s appearance on Capitol Hill, sources have confirmed the former Bureau chief met with his predecessor, Robert Mueller, who was asked to lead the federal probe of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election after Comey’s removal as head of the FBI.

Asked by reporters if the president was weighing the use of “executive privilege” to block Comey’s testimony, White House spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, replied:

“The President’s power to assert executive privilege is well-established.  However, in order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump will not assert executive privilege regarding James Comey’s scheduled testimony.”

Although largely a legal advantage for the president and members of the executive branch to avoid subpoenas, executive privilege is a tool which past presidents have invoked to prevent current or former government officials from testifying in front of congressional panels. The doctrine came to a head in the early 1970s during the Watergate scandal, when Richard Nixon sought to withhold the infamous White House tapes from being used as evidence against him.

In U.S. v. Nixon, the Supreme Court ruled that there is a “valid need for protection of communications between high government officials and those who advise and assist them,” but “neither the separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality . . .  can sustain an absolute, unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.”

Regarding the current case, it has also been learned from sources close to Mr. Comey the former director will not offer statements confirming earlier speculation President Trump pressured him to end the probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

“He is not going to Congress to make accusations about the president’s intent, instead he’s there to share his concerns,” an unnamed source connected to Comey told ABC News.

In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Comey’s sacking on May 9, rumors persisted Trump had pressured Comey to drop a FBI probe into Flynn during a White House meeting Trump held with Comey.

Notes allegedly written by the former director following the Oval Office meeting were cited by unnamed sources as the basis for speculation Comey would testify Trump pressured him to end the Flynn probe, a charge which amounts to obstruction of justice.

Instead of offering an account of the meeting suggesting Trump attempted to interfere with the Flynn probe, Mr. Comey is expected to refute Trump’s claim Comey had assured the president three times he was not under investigation.

Ahead of Comey’s Thursday testimony, two key intelligence officials, NSA Director Mike Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, stated during appearances in front of the Senate intelligence committee they were never pressured by Trump over probes into alleged Russian interference in the November election.

Mr. Comey is expected to begin public testimony Thursday morning, which will be carried live on television by all major network and cable news organizations.

 

[Roll Call] [Politico] [Washington Post] [ABC News] [Fox News] [Variety] [CNN] [Photo courtesy The Telegraph]