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Former Comey aide grilled by House panel for over seven hours

Posted by on Jan. 18, 2018 at 7:29 PM
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Former Comey aide grilled by House panel for over seven hours

Former Comey aide grilled by House panel for over seven hours
© Greg Nash

Two House panels on Thursday questioned former FBI Director James Comey’s former chief of staff during a closed-door interview that lasted over seven hours.

FBI official James Rybicki faced questions from lawmakers on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees as part of a joint investigation into the way the bureau handled the investigation into former secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Democrats have slammed the investigation as a sham designed to distract from the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia, while Republicans have defended it as a legitimate oversight exercise. Oversight chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) characterized the interview as nothing more than a standard deposition.

Lawmakers of both parties filtered in and out of interview tight-lipped on the details of the interview, although they largely indicated that Rybicki was cooperating with the questions. Without divulging particulars, Gowdy described it as turning up previously unknown information. Like a similar marathon interview with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in December, the briefing was confidential but not classified.

Rybicki — flanked by Greg Brower, the bureau’s chief liaison to Capitol Hill, and Scott Schools, a senior career attorney at the Justice Department — declined to comment on the interview.

Democrats were quick to describe it as a waste of time and a fishing expedition. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) said there was “an air of tension” in the room, though that was denied by Republican lawmakers.

“I think we’re spending an inordinate amount of time on how Hillary Clinton’s emails were investigated and treated. I have seen nothing that would me to believe that the FBI did anything other than what they should have done,” said Krishnamoorthi.  

“A colossal waste of time,” quipped Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

Questioning was limited to the Clinton email investigation, according to multiple lawmakers.

Krishnamoorthi said the texts between agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were within the scope of the interview, but said it was “unclear” whether questions could also include the controversial dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russia. He would not say whether either topic had been brought up.

Republicans were expected to press Rybicki on the drafting of Comey’s memo that cleared Clinton and her staff of wrongdoing in 2016, as well as a series of anti-Trump texts exchanged between two FBI agents before the 2016 election.

“There’s obvious things that we’re going to get into — the exoneration letter, and the term was changed from ‘gross negligence’ to ‘extreme carelessness,’ questions on the decision made to run the investigation out of headquarters versus the field office, and just all of the unusual things about the investigation,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said the day before the interview.

“The decision Comey made to publicize it, the decision Comey made to actually do the press conference and the timing of certain things,” Jordan continued. “All of that will be on the table, as well as a couple specific things I want to get to.”

Jordan and other Republicans continue to raise questions about why a draft of Comey’s statement accused Clinton of being “grossly negligent” in handling classified information — a rarely used criminal threshold — while the FBI chief’s final draft of the memo ultimately rebuked Clinton for being “extremely careless.”

The statement was drafted weeks before Comey delivered the announcement of no charges.

Strzok, the No. 2 FBI official leading the Clinton email investigation, was reportedly among those who weighed in on changing the description of Clinton’s actions in Comey’s statement.

Meanwhile, Strzok has come under immense Republican scrutiny for his involvement in the Russian probe and his time working for Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

by on Jan. 18, 2018 at 7:29 PM
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