Ex-FBI chief to testify in Russia-link probe

Mr James Comey was leading the FBI's probe into allegations that Russia had meddled with the US election last year. There was a political uproar when he was fired on May 9.
Mr James Comey was leading the FBI's probe into allegations that Russia had meddled with the US election last year. There was a political uproar when he was fired on May 9.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Senate panel hearing next Thursday; question raised if Trump will invoke executive privilege

WASHINGTON • Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey will testify next Thursday before a United States Senate panel investigating Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 US election - that is if President Donald Trump does not cut him off before that.

In his first public appearance since Mr Trump fired him on May 9, Mr Comey will address the Senate Intelligence Committee in both an open session and behind closed doors, which would allow him to discuss classified information, the committee said on Thursday. Mr Trump has denied any collusion between Russia and his campaign.

Mr Comey was leading the FBI's probe into the allegations, and his firing sparked a political uproar. Facing rising pressure, the Justice Department last month named Mr Robert Mueller, another former FBI chief, as a special counsel to investigate the matter.

The Senate panel also plans to hear at some point from Mr Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law and one of his closest White House aides.

It is unclear whether that appearance would be in public or behind closed doors, but Mr Kushner's testimony takes on new significance after revelations the FBI is looking at his discussions about setting up back-channel communications with Russia after the election.

The Justice Department and multiple US congressional committees are investigating Russia's actions in the 2016 presidential election and questions about possible collusion between Russian officials and Trump campaign associates.

At next week's hearing, Mr Comey is expected to be asked about conversations in which Mr Trump is reported to have pressured him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose ties to Russia are under scrutiny.

Controversy erupted again this week after the Republican head of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Mr Devin Nunes, approved subpoenas to the Central Intelligence Agency, FBI and National Security Agency for information relating to the "unmasking" of the identities of Trump campaign advisers inadvertently picked up in top-secret foreign communications intercepts.

When asked yesterday in an interview with ABC News if Mr Trump would use executive privilege to prevent Mr Comey from speaking with lawmakers, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said: "The President will make that decision."

Legal experts say Mr Trump could invoke a doctrine called executive privilege to try to stop Mr Comey from testifying. But such a manoeuvre would likely draw a backlash and could be challenged in court, they said.

The White House and Mr Nunes have alleged that former Democratic president Barack Obama's administration eavesdropped on Mr Trump's campaign, an assertion that Mr Comey has disputed and current US officials dismiss as absurd.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-FBI chief to testify in Russia-link probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe