The former FBI director James Comey is to testify in front of cameras following his shock sacking, it has been announced, as a series of damaging revelations pile further pressure on embattled US president, Donald Trump.
Comey, who was sacked by Trump on May 9 in the middle of an investigation into the president’s links to Russia, is to give evidence in an open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee, the committee announced on Friday.
Earlier, The Washington Post reported that a White House official had been identified as a “significant person of interest” by the law enforcement investigation into links between Russia and the Trump election campaign.
At the same time, The New York Times, quoting a US official, said Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing Comey took “great pressure” off him, as he labelled the former FBI chief a “real nut job”. The president’s spokesman did not deny the report, but said Comey made it harder for the US to engage with Russia.
Trump has called coverage of his alleged links to Russia and apparent efforts to stifle the FBI investigation as “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history”.
His administration has been dogged by claims of being too close to Russia since alleged interference by Moscow in the 2016 election. It has been claimed that Trump has revealed highly confidential intelligence to Russian officials.
Confirming Comey’s appearance, the committee chairman, Senator Richard Burr, said: “The committee looks forward to receiving testimony from the former director on his role in the development of the intelligence community assessment on Russian interference.”
Senator Mark Warner, the committee’s vice-chairman, said Comey “deserves an opportunity to tell his story”.
“Moreover, the American people deserve an opportunity to hear it.” he said.
However, Comey declined an invitation from the Senate judiciary committee to testify about the circumstances of his firing and interactions with officials from the Trump and Obama administrations related to the Russia and Hillary Clinton investigations.
Senators Chuck Grassley, chairman of the judiciary committee, cast doubt on whether the intelligence committee testimony would take place. He suggested in a tweet that the special counsel brought in to take over the Russia investigation, former FBI director Robert Mueller, may stop Comey speaking in public about an ongoing investigation.
The White House initially attributed the firing to Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, while Democrats and the press suspected an effort to disrupt the FBI’s Russia investigation. Trump later told NBC News that “this Russia thing” factored into his decision .
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Trump had urged Comey to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The report said Comey wrote memos describing his interactions with Trump, which he believed were inappropriate.
Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House oversight and government reform committee, has asked the FBI to turn the memos over to the committee.
Comey has not spoken publicly since the firing, beyond a farewell letter to the FBI in which he said he was “not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed”.
But the substance of some of his memos has been leaked, as Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke to The New York Times and published online details about the strained relationship between Trump and Comey.
Wittes, a friend of Comey, described him as being disgusted by Trump’s efforts to gain his loyalty and establish a personal relationship, which Comey considered inappropriate.
Responding to The New York Times report, press secretary Sean Spicer said: “As the president has stated before – a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”
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