Thursday 22 February 2018

Comey to face Senate grilling this week on whether Trump tried to block Russia probe

Former FBI Director James Comey. Photo: REUTERS
Former FBI Director James Comey. Photo: REUTERS

Ayesha Rascoe

Former FBI director James Comey will be grilled this week on whether US President Donald Trump tried to get him to back off an investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mr Comey, who was leading the FBI probe into alleged Russian meddling in last year's US presidential election, was fired by Mr Trump last month, four years into his 10-year term.

The move sparked accusations that Mr Trump dismissed Mr Comey to hinder that investigation and stifle questions about possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.

"I want to know what kind of pressure - appropriate, inappropriate - how many conversations he had with the president about this topic?" Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a TV interview yesterday.

The former FBI chief is due to testify on Thursday before the intelligence committee as part of its own Russia-related investigation.

After Mr Comey's dismissal, news reports emerged that Mr Trump asked Mr Comey to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn during a February meeting in the Oval Office, the day after Mr Flynn was fired for misrepresenting his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Denial: Putin says he ‘didn’t really talk’ to Michael Flynn. Photo: REUTERS
Denial: Putin says he ‘didn’t really talk’ to Michael Flynn. Photo: REUTERS

The account was based on a memo Mr Comey wrote after the meeting. The Comey memo caused alarm on Capitol Hill and raised questions about whether Mr Trump tried to interfere with a federal investigation.

"It would be unthinkable if the president actually did what was reported, asked FBI director Comey to, in effect, back off of at least the investigation into General Flynn," Senator Warner said.

US intelligence agencies concluded in January that Moscow tried to sway the November vote in Mr Trump's favour. Russia has denied involvement, and Mr Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday in an interview that he did not have any relationship with Mr Flynn and spoke only briefly with him when he sat next to him at a 2015 dinner for Russian TV network RT.

"I made my speech. Then we talked about some other stuff. And I got up and left," Mr Putin told NBC News. "That's it. I didn't even really talk to him. That's the extent of my acquaintance with Mr Flynn."

Republican Senator Susan Collins, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was eager to question Mr Comey to find out more about Mr Trump's allegation that Mr Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation.

"We need to hear directly from Mr Comey on these important issues," Senator Collins said. "The tone, the exact words that were spoken and the context are so important and that's what we lack right now and we can only get that by talking to those directly involved."

Mr Trump has called the investigation into alleged ties between his campaign and Russia a "witch hunt" designed to undermine the legitimacy of his electoral win.

Irish Independent

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