Former FBI director James Comey is formally refusing to answer questions submitted to him by a bipartisan group of senators, suggesting he no longer must do so as a private citizen.
Comey sent an email from his private account last week rebuffing the seven questions that had been submitted to him by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and the committee’s ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein after Comey’s final testimony as FBI director to the panel last month. Comey was fired by President Donald Trump shortly after his appearance.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., joined in the request in a show that lawmakers in both parties believed the questions were important enough to demand answers.
Comey's short email specifically cited his status as a private citizen as a reason for declining to answer the questions.
The “private citizen “excuse was considered unusual by the senators since numerous former government officials have testified before Congress in recent weeks.
They included former CIA Director John Brennan, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates (who like Comey was fired by Trump) and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
And Comey himself is appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, raising senators’ fears he is “venue shopping” to avoid hard questions the Judiciary Committee is likely to ask about the FBI’s use of NSA surveillance data and conflicts between Comey’s past testimony and new evidence in the public domain.
Among the questions the bipartisan senators asked was whether Comey kept any memos of his contacts with Trump or former President Barack Obama, whether he shared or discussed those memos with anyone else.
"Given our role in considering the nomination of the next FBI Director, the still unanswered questions from your last oversight hearing, and our role in oversight of the Justice Department and the FBI, your testimony will be essential to our Constitutional duties," the senators wrote.
Watch this video to help understand the Russia and Comey controversies.
Graham said he fears Comey will answer only select questions about his interactions with Trump, creating the potential for a one-sided testimony when he appears before Senate Intelligence. "I hope this hearing doesn't become a hit job on President Trump," the South Carolina Republican said.
The White House also is considering whether Trump should invoke executive privilege to block Comey's testimony.
Meanwhile, lawmakers also have questions about the FBI's powers to spy on Americans.
Since Comey’s last testimony in early May before the Judiciary Committee, Circa has reported that the FBI under Comey’s tenure improperly shared highly classified NSA intercept information about Americans with third-parties and also monitored attorney-client conversations without the promised legal protections.
Comey had testified before the committee that FBI agents did not access NSA data without proper training and oversight. But in admitting the violations, the FBI acknowledged training and poor oversight had led to the problems.
Likewise, Comey testified to Congress he never felt pressured by the Justice Department during the Russia election scandal investigation. But reports have since emerged that he did feel pressured to end the probe during a meeting with Trump.
To read the seven questions the committee submitted to the committee, just click here.