Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina pressed former FBI Director James Comey during a closed-door hearing Monday why he believed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s conduct warranted a criminal investigation, but was not worthy of bringing to President Donald Trump’s attention.
According to the transcript from the hearing released on Tuesday, Jordan ran through a timeline with Comey, noting The Washington Post had run a story just one day before FBI investigators met with Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 headlined, “FBI reviewed Flynn’s calls with Russian ambassador but found nothing illicit.”
The story related that calls between Flynn and then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition in December 2016 were listened to, but that the national security adviser was not the subject of the investigation.
Jordan asked Comey whether there was anything wrong in the conversations that prompted the FBI to send investigators to Flynn’s office.
Comey answered, “The vice president had said that the national security advisor had told (him) that the subject of sanctions never came up in General Flynn’s conversations with the Russians. That’s my memory of what the vice president said. We knew that was not true.”
The former FBI chief then conceded that Flynn and Kislyak talking about sanctions was not in and of itself the area of concern for him, but that Flynn had lied about it first to Vice President Mike Pence and later to the FBI.
Comey recounted that the Logan Act, which forbids private citizens from engaging in unauthorized communications with foreign governments “was not my focus, as I recall, at the time; that I gather there was a statute that prohibited private citizens and all that but that it wasn’t something that had been prosecuted in 100 years, and so that was not our focus.”
Comey reiterated Flynn’s lying to Pence was what prompted sending FBI agents to the White House.
Jordan later wanted to know why Comey did not raise the matter of Flynn’s lying with President Donald Trump when the two had dinner on Jan. 27, 2017.
“Why not?” the congressman wanted to know. “(Trump’s) talking about General Flynn. You had just interviewed him three days earlier and discovered that he was lying to the vice president, knew he was lying to the vice president, and, based on what we’ve heard of late, that he lied to your agents.”
“Why not tell his boss, why not tell the head of the executive branch, why not tell the president of the United States, ‘Hey, your national security advisor just lied to us three days ago?'”
Comey answered because it was an “open investigation.”
Jordan was incredulous: “Really?…I mean, but this is not just any investigation, it seems to me, director. This is a top advisor to the commander-in-chief.”
Meadows then jumped in: “So, Director Comey, let me make sure I understand this. You were so concerned that Michael Flynn may have lied or did lie to the vice president of the United States, but that once you got that confirmed, that he had told a falsehood, you didn’t believe that it was appropriate to tell the president of the United States that there was no national security risk where you would actually convey that to the president of the United States?”
“Is that your testimony?” Meadows asked.
“That is correct,” said Comey. “We had an open investigation, criminal investigation, counterintelligence investigation. There was no way I would discuss that with the president.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina pushed Comey on his public remarks regarding FBI breaking its normal protocol by interviewing Flynn in the opening days of the Trump administration without involving the White House counsel.
#DrainTheSwamp– @Comey: I sent them something I probably wouldn’t have done and maybe gotten away with in a more organized investigation… if the FBI wanted to send agents into the White House itself to interview a senior official you would work through the White House counsel. pic.twitter.com/mrZcNMpVy4
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) December 15, 2018
Comey acknowledged “in a more established environment, there would’ve been an expectation that the FBI would coordinate the interview through White House counsel.”
“I’d never worked in a transition time before,” he added, “but my understanding was that, in a more established administrative environment, you wouldn’t get away with just calling the witness and saying, ‘Can we come and talk to you?'”
On Tuesday, Flynn’s legal team accepted a federal judge’s offer to delay sentencing concerning his guilty plea for making false statements. The move allows their client to continue to cooperate with federal investigators, which might result in a reduced sentence.
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