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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate intelligence committee Thursday will receive breathless television coverage, unlike anything in recent years.

Broadcast networks ABC, NBC and CBS are preempting daytime programming. Top anchors are covering the hearing. Press demand for seats inside the committee hearing room is at a record level. Public interest is high given Mr. Comey’s sudden and unexpected firing and the firestorm that has surrounded it.


Much of the Democratic questioning will focus on the contents of his contemporaneous memos and the substance of his private conversations with President Trump about the agency’s ongoing probe into charges of Russian hacking of the 2016 election and any collusion by the president or his campaign team.


AUDIO: Matt Mackowiak with Robert Henneke


The Senate intelligence committee released Mr. Comey’s detail-rich opening statement Wednesday afternoon, and the account in his prepared testimony unsurprisingly appears to confirm earlier media leaks about what he will say.

During questioning, I expect that Mr. Comey will describe how he felt, but not reveal anything about the status or progress of the Russia investigation. This will enrage Democratic members of the committee, an anger that was already bubbling after top U.S. intelligence officials denied they ever felt any improper pressure from Mr. Trump before the same Senate panel Wednesday morning.

But two other lines of questioning should not be lost in the coverage.

First, if Mr. Comey really was asked by President Trump to “let it go” when speaking of the FBI probe into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, why did he not inform Congress at the time? Several news reports suggested that Mr. Trump made this request to Mr. Comey in the Oval Office in February, according to Mr. Comey’s own memos and just-released testimony.

I see only three possible explanations: that the president did not say what Mr. Comey claimed; that Mr. Comey did not feel at the time that the president’s remarks were inappropriate or an attempt to obstruct justice; or that the FBI chief did think the president went over the line but chose not to inform the oversight committees.

A contemporaneous memo is one thing, but Mr. Comey had a responsibility to inform Congress if he sincerely felt the president was interfering with an ongoing investigation. His apparent decision not to inform Congress at the time undermines his credibility at a time when he most needs it. His credibility is the foundation for everything he will swear to at Thursday’s hearing.

Then there’s the whole question of the leaking of classified information from the intelligence community, leaks clearly designed to embarrass Mr. Trump and his team.

We have never seen such rampant illegal leaking of classified information. This week the first arrest was made related to these leaks, with an NSA records contractor charged with turning over secret documents to a news organization.

This should not be the end of the leak investigation.

Sensitive information about our intelligence community, classified reports, intelligence collection and private briefings given to the president have all been leaked to the media. If leak investigations are underway, then that fact is being hidden from Congress and the public, and while the first arrest was unexpected, many more leaks still must be prosecuted.

Did Mr. Comey aggressively go after these matters as FBI director? If so, where did those probes stand when he was fired? If not, why was he not investigating them?

Perhaps as importantly, James Comey needs to explain how his very private views have become public knowledge, including the existence, and the contents of, his memos about his conversations with Mr. Trump, which would be classified.

Whom did he tell about them? Where are the memos now, and why hasn’t the Senate intelligence committee received them? How many are there? Have any journalists seen them? Who leaked them to the media? If Mr. Comey is not the leaker, to whom has he provided his records, and under what authority?

Mr. Comey was under withering attack when he was fired, but as FBI director, he had a responsibility to protect classified information at all times, even after he was fired.

Millions of Americans will be watching this hearing to learn more from Mr. Comey. He needs to answer those questions.

• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a new national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.


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