Eight Senators to Watch at the Comey HearingBy
Lawmakers to ask whether Trump obstructed FBI investigation
Probe remains bipartisan despite Trump ‘witch hunt’ charge
The Senate hearing Thursday with former FBI Director James Comey has the ingredients of a blockbuster -- drama, mystery and Russia -- with the outcome potentially hanging over the remainder of Donald Trump’s presidency. It’ll give the 15 senators on the Intelligence Committee a national stage to examine the president’s interactions with Comey.
Senators want to question Comey about reports Trump urged him to stop investigating Michael Flynn, his ousted national security adviser, in the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in last year’s election.
Democrats are seeking to determine whether Trump obstructed justice, while some Republicans can be expected to try to show the president did nothing wrong. Trump, who ultimately fired Comey, has denied urging him to give Flynn a pass and dismissed the investigation as a "witch hunt."
Major TV networks are planning live coverage of the hearing, giving an opportunity for senators to make a mark, both on Trump’s future and perhaps their own political careers. There will be at least one addition to the usual committee roster: Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Trump critic who is allowed to attend the panel’s meetings based on his status as chairman of the Armed Service Committee.
Eight senators on the panel to watch include:
Chairman, Republican from North Carolina
- The recently re-elected senator has emerged as the pivotal Republican in the congressional Russia investigations. He has credibility with Democrats and repeatedly said he’ll follow the evidence wherever it goes. Burr has strongly praised Comey in the past for his cooperation with the committee, and unlike Trump, has strongly criticized Russia for intervening in the election and in the elections of allies France and Germany. While he was a strong Trump supporter during last year’s campaign, he has said he wants to answer the question of whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and whether anything directly involved the president.
Vice Chairman, Democrat from Virginia
- The panel’s top Democrat has said he wants to hear whether Comey felt any interference from Trump in the Russia investigation, which many Democrats see as evidence of a coverup and potentially obstruction of justice. Warner also wants Comey to re-emphasize his conclusion that Russia intervened in U.S. elections on the president’s behalf -- a conclusion lawmakers in both parties have generally accepted but Trump has not.
Democrat from Oregon
- A fierce watchdog of the intelligence community, Wyden has also been one of the most vocal Trump foes and has a penchant for asking some of the toughest questions in hearings. Wyden has said Trump’s statement to NBC’s Lester Holt that he was thinking of Russia when he fired Comey must be explored. Expect Wyden to drill down hard on the question of obstruction of justice and whether Comey agrees with him that Trump’s words, at minimum, represent an attack on American institutions.
Republican from Maine
- The moderate Republican has fought to keep the probe bipartisan, robust and independent. Collins said Sunday on CBS’s "Face the Nation" that she wants to hear from Comey about Trump’s contention in a letter announcing his firing that Comey had informed Trump three times that he wasn’t a subject of the investigation. Collins also wants to know just how much pressure Trump put on Comey to end the investigation into Flynn.
If the president said, "‘What do you think is going to happen?’ that is one thing," she said on CBS. "If, on the other hand, the president said to Mr. Comey, ‘I want you to end this investigation of General Flynn, I want it ended now, and if you don’t do so, you are going to be in trouble,’ that is a whole different nature of a conversation."
Republican from Florida
- Rubio has had a hot and cold relationship with Trump, his former rival for the presidency. He called for a robust investigation and has generally been a hawk on Russia, but he’s also grown closer to the administration and pared back his criticism. He and fellow panel member and Russia hawk Tom Cotton of Arkansas had dinner with Trump two days before the hearing. Rubio’s approach to questioning Comey could be a bellwether for how hard Republicans will focus on the former FBI director’s own conduct versus Trump’s.
Democrat from California
- The former chairwoman of the Intelligence committee is also the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FBI, and she wants Comey to testify there too. Feinstein previously criticized Comey for his handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email, but can be expected to have a very different focus this time around. She has said she wants to know: Why, exactly, was Comey fired and what, if anything, did Trump do to impede the investigation? And does Comey know if tapes might exist of his conversations with Trump, as the president implied in a tweet?
Republican from Texas
- If there is a party line apparent in the hearing, expect the No. 2 Republican in the Senate to sing it. Trump considered appointing Cornyn to replace Comey before the senator withdrew from consideration. Cornyn has called Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton case a "compelling" reason to fire the former FBI director. He, along with several other Republicans, are likely to cast doubt on the seriousness of Trump’s requests to Comey about Flynn’s status in the investigation. In particular, expect some of them to ask why he hadn’t previously reported those conversations if he felt they were inappropriate or illegal. Another possible line of questioning could be the leaks about the investigation -- a frequent subject of Trump’s ire.
Republican from Arizona
- McCain has repeatedly described the Russia story as a "centipede" and has predicted more shoes will drop. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, McCain is an ex-officio member of the Intelligence panel, which means he can attend the hearing and ask questions. McCain has been perhaps the sharpest congressional critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and McCain has suggested the creation of a select committee to investigate Russian interference.