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Republicans pivot and make Comey the Capitol's most-wanted man

Jennifer Steinhauer | NYT/ 18 May 17 | 12:36 PM

File photo of James Comey (Photo: AP/PTI)

Republicans on Wednesday abruptly pivoted and rushed to call on James B. Comey, who was fired as F.B.I. director by President Trump last week, to testify before several committees, produce memos and provide greater detail of his encounters with the president.

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After days of showing limited interest in drawing more attention to the emerging controversy about the president’s role in the investigation into Russian election meddling, Republicans were now offering Mr. Comey highly public forums to lay out his version of events.


Mr. Comey, who has served as a foil, an object of derision and a political martyr for both parties, is suddenly Capitol Hill’s most-wanted man. On Wednesday, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Mr. Comey with the committee’s vice chairman, Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, asking him to appear in both closed and open hearings before their committee.


The two senators also requested that Andrew G. McCabe, the acting F.B.I. director, provide the committee with the memo that Mr. Comey is said to have written suggesting that Mr. Trump asked him to shut down an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.


Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he planned to extend the same invitation for as early as next Wednesday after vowing to use his power to subpoena Mr. Comey’s memo if necessary.


Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — who had largely dismissed the seriousness of the investigations into Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia and other matters — also asked Mr. Comey to appear before his committee. And Mr. Grassley joined Democrats in calling on the F.B.I. to provide all memos relating to Mr. Comey’s interactions with his superiors in both the Trump and Obama administrations and for the White House to provide records of interactions with Mr. Comey, including any audiotapes, which Mr. Trump has suggested he made.


Mr. Warner, referring to Mr. Comey, said Wednesday: “I think there are an awful lot of members on both sides of the aisle that want to know what he knew. I don’t think I know any member that I’ve talked to, publicly or privately, Democrat or Republican, that doesn’t think Jim Comey doesn’t deserve a chance to tell his side of the story."


That sentiment appeared to be shared by Republican Senate leaders.


Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the normally laconic majority leader, told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, “I think we need to hear from him as soon as possible in public to respond to the issues that have been raised in recent days."


Even Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who has shown near indifference to Mr. Trump’s troubles throughout most of his presidency, said he supported Mr. Chaffetz’s efforts to learn more about Mr. Comey’s dealings with the president.


“There are some people out there who want to harm the president," Mr. Ryan said. “But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight, regardless of which party is in the White House. And that means, before rushing to judgment, we get all the pertinent information."


The shift demonstrates the increasing gravity of the accusations against Mr. Trump and affords Mr. Comey the opportunity, if he so wishes, to publicly deliver his account on why he thinks he was dismissed by Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey’s note-taking indicates that he clearly — and correctly — envisioned a day when his conversations with the president could be called into question.


“We had always hoped that as the evidence mounted, our Republican colleagues would join us in asking for more information about what really happened in regards to Director Comey," Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said in an email Wednesday. “This is a good first step, but we have more steps to take, and we hope they’ll continue to be on a bipartisan basis."


The accusations have animated Mr. Trump’s greatest defenders, who believe obtaining the memo will exonerate the president as being a victim of retaliation by the fired Mr. Comey, as well as those Republicans who are increasingly eager to join a bipartisan delving into the facts in the interest of the American public.


“We need to get to the bottom of the allegations against President Trump," Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said.


Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican who often wavers in his support of Mr. Trump, said: “I’ve asked Comey to come before the Judiciary Committee to tell his side of the story. I think it’d be good for him if he did. It’d be good for the country. I hope he’ll take me up on the offer."


Mr. Comey has a history of leaving paper-trail traps for those who try to undermine him.


In 2007, he testified before Congress about a dramatic 2004 standoff at the hospital bedside of the attorney general at the time, John Ashcroft, who was recovering from gallbladder surgery. Mr. Comey said that top White House aides improperly tried to pressure the sedated attorney general to reauthorize a warrantless spying program that the Justice Department had found to be unconstitutional.


The White House strongly denied Mr. Comey’s account, and Alberto R. Gonzales, who was the White House counsel at the time of the hospital room confrontation, testified that he did not try to influence Mr. Ashcroft while he was medicated.


The White House was caught by surprise, though, when the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, produced his notes on the hospital room meeting and many others that thoroughly backed Mr. Comey’s account and undercut the White House.


Ultimately, the hospital room confrontation made Mr. Comey’s career.                                                                                                                                                    ©2017 The New York Times News Service

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