Comey declines House GOP interview — but offers to testify publicly

Former FBI Director James Comey has rejected an invitation from congressional Republicans to be interviewed behind closed doors, but he said he would appear for a public hearing instead.

Comey’s attorney David Kelley sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy stating that Comey “respectfully declines your request for a private interview.”

“He would, however, welcome the opportunity to testify at a public hearing,” Kelley wrote in the letter obtained by CNN.

According to a person familiar with the discussions between Comey and the House Judiciary Committee, Comey did not want selective leaks to occur regarding what was discussed behind closed doors with lawmakers, but instead preferred an open hearing where the public can hear his words directly.

In response to Comey’s letter, a Judiciary Committee aide said Goodlatte is prepared to issue a subpoena for Comey to appear for a transcribed interview if he won’t do so voluntarily.

Goodlatte and Gowdy are trying to talk to Comey and a number of other current and former FBI and Justice Department officials as part of their investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email and Russia investigations.

Comey is at the center of both the Clinton and Russia investigations as former FBI director, between his decision to publicly discuss the Clinton probe and that his May 2017 firing led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Comey’s last public appearance on Capitol Hill in June 2017 before the Senate Intelligence Committee was nothing short of a spectacle, where he described his private conversations with President Donald Trump ahead of his firing and how his memos memorializing those conversations were leaked to help prompt the appointment of a special counsel.

The House committees have done most of their interviews in a closed-door setting, but they grilled former FBI agent Peter Strzok publicly in a July hearing that devolved into a partisan shouting match at several points.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the committee is also expected to speak to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein this month behind closed doors about his reported comments discussing wearing a wire to talk to Trump and recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

Democrats have accused congressional Republicans of using the investigation as a way to undermine the Mueller investigation, arguing they’re trying to provide a pretext for the firing of Rosenstein, who supervises the special counsel probe.

In addition to Comey, congressional Republicans requested interviews last month with two former senior Obama Justice Department officials: former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former Deputy acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

They’re also seeking to talk to former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson, who hired Christopher Steele to compile the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia.

Simpson’s attorney Joshua Levy also rejected the congressional invitation request, writing in a letter last week that the Republicans on the probe are “some of the President’s staunchest protectors, who have misspent American taxpayers’ dollars to undermine the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”

This month, the committees are also interviewing former FBI general counsel James Baker, who was a close adviser to Comey at the bureau, and Nellie Ohr, a Fusion GPS contractor married to Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who was questioned himself last month.

Comey’s attorney said in the letter to Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, and Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, that Comey would be able to testify publicly because he no longer has a security clearance.

“Given that Mr. Comey no longer has a security clearance, we do not anticipate the public setting to present concerns about the disclosure of classified information,” Kelley wrote.

Kelly also wrote that Comey expected the committees to obtain approval from the FBI to disclose certain information — something that was an issue when Strzok testified in July.