Politics

Expect Two Wildly Different Stories After James Comey’s House Testimony

Former FBI director not bound by confidentiality agreement, can speak freely after interview

Former FBI Director James Comey will speak with House members behind closed doors Friday but will not be bound by a confidentiality agreement unlike previous witnesses. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former FBI Director James B. Comey is speaking with lawmakers behind closed doors Friday after reaching a compromise with House Republicans who subpoenaed him to testify about his recommendation in July 2016 not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to conduct official government business.

But unlike all previous witnesses who interviewed with the joint panel of House Judiciary Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee members for their probe into potential bias at the FBI and Justice Department in 2016, Comey will not be bound to silence by a confidentiality agreement after the meeting.

He is allowed to speak freely.

House Republicans have faced criticism — even from GOP Oversight Chairman Trey  Gowdy, who is co-leading the effort — throughout their probe for breaking confidentiality agreements and selectively leaking portions of witnesses’ answers that are often misleading without proper context. Democrats on the committees have usually come to the witnesses’ defense to explain their quotes in context.

But on Friday, Comey is not bound by a confidentiality agreement. The panel, per his request, will release a transcript of the interview to the public, and he can explain his answers for himself.

Expect two diverging stories to emerge after the former FBI director’s interview, Comey’s lawyer suggested in an interview on MSNBC  — one from Comey’s camp, another from House Republicans.

“It appears that the two committees conducting the investigation have reached the conclusion and then said, ‘Let’s bring some witnesses in here and we’ll do it in private and we’ll take snippets of their testimony, we’ll mold it into a mosaic that fits our political narrative… and that’s what we’re going to release to the public, not the unfiltered testimony,'” David Kelley, Comey's attorney, said Monday.

Kelley said he expects Republicans to try to “put words in his mouth” to lead to conclusions that “would fit this partisan mosaic.”

But Comey would not sit idle and have his testimony, which will be made public via a transcript, “twisted in that way.”

Comey had originally demanded that any interview before the joint panel of House Judiciary Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee members be conducted in public to avoid selective leaks.

Gowdy and House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte threw cold water on that proposal, arguing that previous public hearings with witnesses, like one with former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok this past summer, were a political farce as members from both parties used the high-profile nature of the interview to grandstand.

Gowdy told Fox News Thursday that the request to interview Comey is not political, but rather a natural extension of Congress’ oversight responsibility over the justice system's extraordinary powers.

“The FBI had a criminal investigation into a presidential candidate, and then less than a month after that ended, they launched a counter-intelligence investigation into the campaign of the other major presidential candidate,” Gowdy said. “So that’s a lot of power that we have given an entity. It’s not too much to ask for the former head of that entity to come explain to Congress the decisions made and not made during the relevant time period.”

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