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Donald Trump faces new revelations as Comey prepares to testify

Ex-FBI chief to tell Senate committee about campaign inquiry role, as president reportedly described him to Russians as ‘nut job’

The former FBI director James Comey is to testify in public during the US inquiry into Russian interference, it has been announced, as a series of damaging revelations pile further pressure on the embattled president Donald Trump.

Comey, who was sacked by Trump on 9 May in the midst of an investigation into the president’s links to Russia, is to give evidence in an open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee at some point after US Memorial Day on 29 May, the committee announced on Friday.

The announcement came as 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.

The New York Times, quoting a US official, reported that Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him, as he labelled the former FBI chief a “real nut job”. The president’s spokesman did not deny the report, but said Comey had made it harder for the US to engage with Russia.

Trump, who arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday for an official visit, has called media coverage of his alleged links to Russia, and his apparent subsequent efforts to stifle the FBI investigation, as “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history”.

Trump and Comey’s love-hate relationship

The president’s administration has been dogged by claims of being too close to the Russian government since their alleged interference in the 2016 election. It has been claimed that Trump himself revealed highly confidential intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office.

Trump stepped off Air Force One in Riyadh on Saturday morning to begin his first international trip since taking office. The president, accompanied by the first lady, Melania Trump, was greeted by King Salman. They shook hands and Trump said it was “a great honour” to be there.

Soon after, Trump tweeted for the first time on international soil as president. “Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead.”

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead. #POTUSAbroad pic.twitter.com/JJOra0KfyR

May 20, 2017

At a ceremony in the royal court, the king placed the Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud medal, the nation’s highest civilian honour, around Trump’s neck. Given to Trump for his efforts to strengthen ties in the region, the gold medal has also been bestowed on his predecessor, Barack Obama, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the British prime minister, Theresa May.

The king and president were overheard discussing natural resources and arms, and the king bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria’s civil war.

The White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told reporters that Trump spent the flight talking to staff, working on his upcoming speech to the Muslim world and getting a little sleep.

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 in the 2016 US elections and I am hopeful that he will clarify for the American people recent events that have been broadly reported in the media.”

Senator Mark Warner, the vice-chairman, said he hoped the testimony “will help answer some of the questions that have arisen since director Comey was so suddenly dismissed by the president”.

“He deserves an opportunity to tell his story,” Warner said in the joint statement. “Moreover, the American people deserve an opportunity to hear it.”

However, Comey declined an invitation from the Senate judiciary committee, which asked him to testify voluntarily about the circumstances of his firing and his interactions with officials from the Trump and Obama administrations relating to the Russia and Hillary Clinton investigations.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, the chairman and ranking member of the judiciary committee, said in a joint statement they were disappointed by Comey’s decision and there was no reason he couldn’t testify before both committees. “Given his commitment to the people and the mission of the FBI, we expected him to be responsive to the senators responsible for vetting its next proposed leader,” they said. “He should reconsider his decision.”

Grassley later cast doubt on whether the intelligence committee testimony would take place, suggesting in a tweet that the special counsel brought in to take over the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, may stop Comey appearing.

ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley)

I wld not be surprised if the new Special Counsel Mueller stops Comey fr testifying b4 the Senate Intelligence Comm even tho Comey is wiling

May 20, 2017

While there is no precedent to the current situation, it’s possible Mueller would object to Comey speaking in public about an ongoing investigation.

Senator Lindsey Graham said on Thursday that the appointment of a special counsel meant “Congress’s ability to conduct investigations of all things Russia has been severely limited”. He questioned whether witnesses would testify to Congress and risk incriminating themselves in Mueller’s criminal investigation.

The White House initially attributed the firing to Comey’s controversial handling of the investigation into Clinton’s email server, while Democrats and the press immediately suspected an effort to disrupt the FBI’s Russia investigation. Trump subsequently said in an interview with NBC News that “this Russia thing” factored into his decision.

Many Democratic lawmakers – and a handful of Republicans – have suggested that the firing could constitute obstruction of justice.

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 also revealed the fact that Comey had written 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 (pdf) 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 wrote that he was “not going to spend time on the decision [to fire him] or the way it was executed”.

The substance of some of his memos has been leaked, however, and on Thursday Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and editor of the blog Lawfare, spoke to the New York Times and published a blog post with more details about the strained relationship between Trump and Comey.

Wittes is a personal friend of Comey’s. He described Comey 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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