WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump has no intention of blocking former FBI Director James Comey from testifying to Congress later this week about key conversations they had earlier this year before Trump fired him, the White House said Monday.
Trump had been considering whether to invoke executive privilege on his White House conversations with Comey and keep him from testifying Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “in order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of facts,” Trump would not try to halt the Comey testimony.
When Trump fired him a month ago, Comey was leading the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of Russian interference into last year's presidential campaign and possible illegal collusion between Trump campaign aides and Russian interests aimed at helping Trump defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The president later called Comey “a showboat” and “a grandstander.”
U.S. presidents in the past have invoked executive privilege to keep their conversations with top aides secret. But if Trump had exerted the privilege in Comey's case, it would almost certainly have left the impression that the administration was seeking to hide information about the Russia investigation.
Trump said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to dismiss Comey, who was in the fourth year of a 10-year term as head of the country's top criminal investigative agency. Trump has often been dismissive of the FBI and congressional investigations of the Russian interference in the election, saying it is an excuse used by Democrats to explain Clinton's upset loss.
Within days of Comey's firing, his associates said the former FBI chief kept detailed notes of his White House meetings with Trump, including one instance when the president asked him to pledge his loyalty, which Comey declined to do. In another moment, the associates said Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, about his talks with Russian officials.
Comey felt pressured
The associates have told U.S. news outlets that Comey felt like Trump was trying to pressure him in an unacceptable way, a conclusion he is certain to be asked about when he appears before the Senate panel.
Trump fired Flynn in February after he had held the key White House post for just 24 days, when routine U.S. eavesdropping showed Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Moscow's ambassador to Washington in the weeks before Trump assumed power in late January. The Comey associates said Trump asked the FBI director to drop his Flynn probe the day after the retired Army general had been fired.
Over Trump's opposition, his Justice Department named a special counsel, Robert Mueller, another former FBI director, to conduct a criminal investigation of the possible illegal collusion between Trump aides and Russian interests. That probe is in its early stages.