New pressure on Comey to return to Capitol Hill, as White House accuses him of ‘false testimony’
The White House on Monday accused James Comey of giving “false testimony” and suggested the Justice Department look at whether he perjured himself, as Republican lawmakers stepped up pressure on the former FBI director to clarify apparent discrepancies in his public statements to Congress.
“Since the director’s firing, we’ve learned new information about his conduct that only provided further justification for that firing,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, citing “false testimony” among her examples.
Asked to clarify whether she thought Comey perjured himself or at least misled Congress, Sanders told Fox News’ John Roberts: “I think that’s something probably for DOJ to look at, not me. I’m not an attorney.”
Sanders, who defended the Comey firing in response to criticism from former chief strategist Steve Bannon, did not specify what testimony she was citing. But the comments came after Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News’ Catherine Herridge last week that he wants to bring back Comey to Capitol Hill, over concerns about his statements on the conclusion of the Hillary Clinton email case.
“This doesn’t add up, and I smell a rat here,” Graham, R-S.C., said.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, added to those calls on Monday, saying Comey “absolutely” should be brought back to testify.
“The American people rightfully have enormous concerns about the manner in which the Clinton email investigation was conducted,” he told Fox News in a written statement. “Recent reports suggesting the outcome of the investigation was predetermined only heighten these concerns.”
Both Graham and Ratcliffe were responding to new allegations that Comey drafted an “exoneration statement” for Clinton weeks before interviewing her.
That raised concerns for Ratcliffe, because the congressman seemed to get a different explanation from Comey during a September 2016 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
At the time, Ratcliffe asked Comey whether he made the decision not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton before or after she was interviewed by the FBI in early July.
“After,” Comey said.
But interview transcripts obtained by Graham and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, revealed claims of an “exoneration statement.”
The transcripts were from interviews conducted by the Office of Special Counsel, which interviewed James Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff, and Trisha Anderson, the principal deputy general counsel of national security and cyberlaw, the GOP senators said. The notes reflected claims that Comey “wrote a draft” of his exoneration statement around early May 2016. Another passage suggested that Comey sent around a draft in an attempt to be “forward-leaning” given the “direction the investigation” was headed.
It remained unclear whether Comey could have drafted a similar statement for a scenario in which charges would be filed against Clinton.
But they called Comey’s testimony in multiple instances into question. During his more recent testimony in June before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey was asked whether his decision to announce the results of the investigation in July 2016 was influenced by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s infamous meeting days earlier on an Arizona tarmac with former President Bill Clinton.
“Yes, in an ultimately conclusive way, that was the thing that capped it for me – that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation,” Comey said.
Graham said last Thursday he didn’t think Comey perjured himself, but suggested the interview transcripts raised questions that must be resolved.
Graham said there are two issues he wants to discuss. The first is whether Comey had “predetermined the result” of the email investigation before the Clinton interview. The second concerns Comey’s claim that he jumped into the fray because of the tarmac meeting. Graham said he has reason to believe the “real reason may have been some email between the DNC and the Justice Department about the scope of the Clinton investigation.”
Asked what he thinks would be the appropriate forum in which Comey could clarify matters, Ratcliffe told Fox News that “what’s most important is getting to the truth” but this should be done in the “most transparent” way possible.
“After the public hearings we’ve already had surrounding this investigation, the American people should be given that same opportunity moving forward,” he said.
Comey, whom President Trump fired in May amid tensions over the Russia probe, also testified in June there were “other things” that contributed to his decision to go public, including Lynch allegedly urging him to refer to the email probe as a “matter” and not an “investigation.”
In his July 2016 announcement, Comey famously called Clinton’s email arrangement “extremely careless” though he decided against recommending criminal charges.