WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee today invited former FBI Director James Comey to come testify behind closed doors next Tuesday and issued a subpoena for former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.
“The subpoena requests documents relevant to the committee’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election,” said the committee announcement. “The committee first requested these documents in an April 28, 2017 letter to Lieutenant General Flynn, but he declined, through counsel, to cooperate with the committee’s request.”
Comey was removed from the witness list for a Thursday Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe has been added to the witness list in his place.
“We were expecting to have Director Comey come before our committee on Thursday in a closed session. Well, we still hope at some point in the near future he will appear before us,” committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) told Fox News last night. “We will have the balance of the intelligence community leaders, Admiral Rogers, DNI Director Coats, CIA Director Pompeo come and talk to us. We have also got today requests for information that were out to some of the prominent names, some who have given us information, some the committee is going to probably have to take appropriate legal action to force them to give us information.”
“I was disappointed at times at the pace of this investigation,” Warner added of the panel’s probe into Russia’s campaign influence operation. “We’ve got to do it quickly, but we’ve also got to do it more than ever meticulously and get to the bottom of the facts.”
The committee, led by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who told reporters today that the timing and reasoning of Comey’s termination “make no sense to me,” reportedly has requested information about President Trump and his aides from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Two years ago, the unit fined Trump’s Taj Mahal $10 million for “willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act” and ordered periodic money laundering reviews of the casino, which closed in October.
CNN reported Tuesday that grand jury subpoenas have been issued to associates of Flynn by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Va.
The New York Times cited multiple congressional sources as saying that, after Burr and Warner urged the FBI director to speed up the investigation that has been open since July, Comey had requested more funding for the Russia probe from the Justice Department in a direct request to Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein, who was overseeing the Russia investigation as Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself and who wrote the memo justifying Comey’s termination.
“I’m told that as soon as Rosenstein arrived, there was a request for additional resources for the investigation and that a few days afterwards, he was sacked,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told the NYT. “I think the Comey operation was breathing down the neck of the Trump campaign and their operatives, and this was an effort to slow down the investigation.” The Justice Department denied that Comey made such a request.
At a meeting with President Nixon’s former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger today, President Trump simply said Comey was fired because “he was not doing a good job.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in the daily briefing that Comey’s “atrocities” warranted his firing.
“Frankly, he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected,” Sanders said of Trump, asserting that Rosenstein “absolutely” decided to review Comey’s performance not at the behest of the White House.
On May 3, press secretary Sean Spicer said Comey enjoyed Trump’s full confidence.
“I think it’s been an erosion of confidence. I think that Director Comey has shown over the last several months, and frankly, the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes,” Sanders explained today.
When a reporter noted that Trump expressed happiness with Comey after the late October revelation that the FBI was looking into a new batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails, Sanders said what had changed was the president’s position.
“One, he was a candidate for president, not the president. Those are two very different things. Once you take over leading the Department of Justice, that’s very different than being a candidate in a campaign. As you guys all know, there’s a very clear distinction between those two things,” she said.
“I think also having a letter like the one that he received [from Rosenstein] and having that conversation that outline the basic atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice. Any person of legal mind and authority knows what a big deal that is, particularly in the Department of Justice; particularly for somebody like the deputy attorney general who has been part of the Justice Department for 30 years and is such a respected person,” she added. “When he saw that, he had to speak up on that action.”
Sanders said Trump made the “final decision to move forward” with firing Comey on Tuesday, “but I know that he’s been contemplating it for a while.”
On the Russia investigation, Sanders said Trump wants the Justice Department “to continue with whatever they see appropriate and see fit, just the same as he’s encouraged the House and Senate committees to continue any ongoing investigations.”
Trump tweeted the day before Comey was let go, “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
“Look, the bottom line is any investigation that was happening on Monday is still happening today. That hasn’t changed,” Sanders said. “And, in fact, we encourage them to complete this investigation so we can put it behind us and we can continue to see exactly what we’ve been saying for nearly a year: there’s no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And we’d love for that to be completed so that we can all move on.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a hearing today that she received a call from Trump at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in which the president told her Comey was being fired because the “department is a mess.”
Feinstein referenced a March 15 closed-door briefing she and Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had with Comey.
“At this briefing, Director Comey outlined the counterintelligence and criminal investigations the FBI is conducting involving Russia’s covert action to influence the presidential election,” she said. “I can’t go into the specifics, but you and I know that it was rather comprehensive for this kind of briefing. The FBI director was precise and he presented us with substantial information. It was clear the FBI was taking its job seriously and that a substantial investigation was underway.”
Feinstein recommended Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe be called to brief committee members “on the reasons and the timing of the firing, as well as what steps are being taken to ensure this action will have no impact on the work of the FBI on the ongoing investigation.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met with President Trump this morning, was asked about the Comey firing outside a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“Was he fired?” Lavrov quipped. “You are kidding. You are kidding.”