Recently fired FBI Director James Comey sent shockwaves today when he announced he was declining the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request to testify in the Trump-Russia scandal (link), just hours after Donald Trump publicly threatened him in a tweet (link). Is Comey giving up and running away? Is Trump blackmailing him? No. Comey is just smart enough to know how to cover his legal bases for his testimony.
Here’s what happens when Congress invites a key witness to testify on an important matter, and that witness declines: Congress then sends that person a subpoena which legally compels them to testify. Given the crucial nature of James Comey’s testimony in the Trump-Russia scandal, now more than ever in light of his controversial firing, that subpoena should be issued within days.
And that will mean that Comey is legally covered when it comes to testifying and answering any questions he’s asked, because after all, he’ll be doing so under the legal mandate of a subpoena. Does executive privilege still exist between Comey and Trump? That’s unclear, based on the wording of Trump’s letter firing Comey. Is Comey allowed to discuss the details of an ongoing FBI investigation, now that he’s no longer with the FBI? That’s not entirely clear either. But those kinds of questions are less of a concern if there’s the weight of a subpoena legally compelling him to answer the Senate committee’s questions to the best of his ability.
So if anything, James Comey’s refusal to honor the Senate Intel Committee’s request to testify is probably a good thing in terms of what Comey will ultimately be able to tell them. Keep in mind this will end up being a closed sessions where classified information is discussed, so it won’t be about embarrassing Trump on television, but rather about arming the committee with the necessary information to truly blow the Trump-Russia scandal wide open. Help fund Palmer Report
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report