WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans spent Thursday morning prodding former FBI Director James Comey, looking for openings that may support President Donald Trump.
Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, tried to lead Comey at the intelligence committee hearing into saying that Trump had not committed obstruction of justice. Comey declined in repeated answers.
Meanwhile, Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio implied in his questions that the leaks coming from intelligence sources are political and pointedly anti-Trump, something the White House has repeatedly argued.
But Comey, who spent a fair amount of his testimony dodging leading questions from both sides, danced around their queries.
Risch, citing Comey’s written testimony, attempted to get Comey to say he was never “directed” by Trump to drop his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Risch argued that Trump was not ordering Comey to drop the investigation and thus was not obstructing justice.
“He did not direct you to let it go?” Risch asked.
“Not in his words, no,” Comey responded.
“He did not order you to let it go?” Risch asked again.
“Those words are not an order,” Comey said.
“Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice, or for that matter, any other criminal offense where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?” Risch pressed.
But Comey tried to sidestep Risch’s line of questioning.
“I took it as a direction,” Comey said. “This is the President of the United States with me alone, saying, ‘I hope this,’ saying, ‘This is what he wants me to do.'”
Later, Rubio — who has often had some tough questions for the Trump administration — pressed Comey on why it never leaked out that Trump was not a direct target of the Russia probe.
Rubio dryly noted that news outlets often get more news about the investigation out than any of Senate intelligence hearings.
“This investigation is full of leaks, left and right,” Rubio said. “Ever wonder why all the things in this investigation, the only thing that has never been leaked is the fact that the President was not personally under investigation? Despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans and the leadership of Congress knew that and have known that for weeks?”
“I don’t know. I find matters that are briefed to the Gang of Eight are pretty tightly held in my experience,” Comey responded.
The Gang of Eight includes top Democrats and Republicans on the intelligence committees and the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders.