Ex-FBI Director James Comey meeting with House committee behind closed doors
(CNN) -- Former FBI Director James Comey is testifying Friday before members of Congress behind closed doors, setting the stage for him to spar with Republicans who have investigated the agency's probes into Hillary Clinton's private email server and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Comey had fought the congressional subpoena in court, pushing for a public hearing before settling for some concessions. A transcript of the interview with members of the House Judiciary Committee will be released as soon as possible, perhaps in the next 24 hours.
When asked why they did not want Comey to testify in public as he requested, North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who will be taking part in the questioning, said they often discuss classified intelligence. "We would be giving him a pass that I don't think he deserves," added Meadows.
Meadows said he had 14 pages of questions to ask Comey and that he expected the interview to go for several hours. He said Republicans felt it was important to call him in for questioning before Democrats took control of the House and committees' gavels next year.
"For us to just pack it up and go home is not what the American people deserve — and for the most part, it's not what they expect," said Meadows.
House Democrats, emerging from the closed interview, said Comey took strong exception to President Donald Trump's attacks over the FBI, saying it hurts morale at the department.
Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said that the mood was "a little bit tense" but said it was appropriate for Comey not to answer questions related to the investigation. He also said Comey's testimony is consistent with his book and previous Hill testimony.
But Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called the private interview a "complete farce" since members could select and leak bits of information to bolster their case until the transcript is released.
"Going forward, I will be advocating for full, open public hearings on issues of this magnitude," he said.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat, said that Comey said that he wouldn't have handled the Russia or Clinton probes differently than he did.
Gomez said he also asked Comey if William Barr, Trump's pick to be the next attorney general, is bias given his past criticism of the Mueller investigation and should be recused. He said if Barr determines he has a bias, then he should step aside, but he also said he has respect for Barr.
Republican congressmen said the interview with the former FBI director would end before 5 p.m. ET Friday, but that Comey could be brought in for further questioning.
After leaving the interview, Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican of California, told reporters that Comey is not answering some questions at the direction of a Justice Department attorney who is accompanying the former FBI director.
"We will be demanding that he come back and be able to answer," said Issa.
It's unclear though whether House Republicans will ask Comey to return for further questioning. On Friday afternoon, Meadows told CNN that it depends on how the rest of the testimony proceeds. It's "too early to tell," he said.
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called the panel's investigation into the FBI a "waste of time," and would end it when he becomes chairman next year. He added there wasn't evidence of political bias at the FBI.
Trump fired Comey in May 2017, a move that led the Justice Department to appoint Robert Mueller special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between Trump's campaign associates and Russian officials.
Since he was fired, Comey has publicly testified on Capitol Hill, spoken to the media numerous times and released a book on "ethical leadership" and his FBI career.
Over the summer, the Department of Justice inspector general released an extensive report criticizing Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation, calling some of his actions "extraordinary and insubordinate" but did not find that he was motivated by political bias.
That same report was harshly critical of Peter Strzok, a FBI agent involved in the bureau's Clinton email and Russia investigations. He was later fired after the agency found that he exchanged anti-Trump text messages with former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. But the inspector general report found no evidence "that these political views directly affected the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed."
This report has been updated and will continue to update with additional developments throughout Friday.
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