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Comey appears before lawmakers for GOP probe of Justice Department bias

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By Mike Memoli

WASHINGTON — House Republicans, with just weeks left in control of key committees, grilled former FBI Director James Comey behind closed doors on Friday as they wind down a year-long probe into key investigative decisions the agency made in the 2016 election.

Members of both parties were girding for a marathon day of testimony that came under protest by Comey, who had initially waged a legal fight against the Judiciary Committee subpoena as he pressed lawmakers to allow him to answer questions in a public hearing.

The House Judiciary and Oversight Committees have been jointly running the investigation largely behind the scenes this year, bringing in an array of former Justice Department, FBI and Obama administration officials to answer questions about whether political considerations drove the FBI’s handling of both the Hillary Clinton email probe, and a counterintelligence investigation into Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. election.

Comey served as FBI director during that critical juncture. And while he has already testified before other House and Senate panels, some of President Donald Trump’s most stalwart defenders insisted on bringing him before their panel.

Comey has repeatedly said he was willing to answer questions in an open hearing. But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., served him a subpoena on the eve of Thanksgiving compelling him to appear in private. Comey initially filed suit challenging the subpoena, arguing that Republicans were more interested in selectively leaking testimony to advance their own political narrative than pursuing the truth.

Ultimately, though, Comey reached an agreement with the committee to testify behind closed doors, on the condition that a full transcript of the proceedings be released within 24 hours.

“Jim recognizes the oversight function of Congress and has respect for the institution,” Comey attorney David Kelley told Ari Melber on MSNBC’s “The Beat” this week. “He wanted to be transparent. If you want to know about these investigations, great. Let’s talk about it publicly. That’s what this fight was about.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a member of the House Oversight Committee, said he wanted to ask Comey about information that may have been collected on Trump campaign associates before the Justice Department formally launched its counterintelligence investigation in July 2016. And he defended the rush to interview key witnesses — Republicans are also seeking testimony from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch — with just weeks left the current congressional term.

“For us to just pack it up and go home is not what the American people deserve and for the most part it’s not what they expect,” he said.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who will serve as Judiciary Committee chairman when Democrats gain control of the House in January, blasted Republicans for pursuing an investigation he called a “waste of time.”

“The entire purpose of this investigation is to cast aspersions on the real investigation with Mueller. There’s no evidence whatsoever of bias at the FBI or any of this other nonsense they’re talking about,” he said.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., a member of the Oversight Committee, said Comey was “the right witness for the wrong questions.”

“I think the Republicans brought him here to talk about Hillary Clinton. That’s a settled issue. Instead we should be talking to him about the ongoing Russia investigation,” he said.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who will serve as the top Republican on the Oversight Committee in the next Congress, cited previous testimony to the committee that claimed Christopher Steele, author of the so-called dossier into Trump’s ties to Russia, told a top Justice Department official that he was determined to stop Trump from becoming president.

Steele’s dossier was cited in a secret surveillance warrant against Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, though Democrats and Republicans have bitterly contested the question of whether dossier information was a critical part of the warrant application.

“I want to know when James Comey knew that, and more importantly, did he know that before they went to the FISA court with Mr. Steele’s work product. I think that’s an important question” he said.

Jordan said he did not know whether the committees’ Republican chairmen, Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., planned to issue a final report after interviews are completed.

“That’ll ultimately be the call of Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman Gowdy.”

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