Comey appeared for a second time before the House intelligence committee Thursday
The FBI director spoke behind closed doors
FBI Director James Comey revealed few new details in a classified briefing with the House intelligence committee Thursday about the bureau’s investigation into Russia meddling, sources said, leaving some members uncertain about the scope of the inquiry and frustrated that they didn’t learn more.
The long-awaited briefing from Comey, and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, had been scheduled behind closed doors specifically so that the FBI director would be able to divulge more about the federal government’s Russia probe. But under persistent questioning, sources said, Comey did not reveal much more than he did publicly.
During the roughly two-hour hearing, sources said, a number of the Republicans and Democrats on the House Russia investigation stuck close to the same partisan lines of questioning that Comey endured during a March public hearing before the panel.
The briefing with Comey and Rogers – which was interrupted for about 30 minutes, as lawmakers darted through the Capitol to cast their votes on health care legislation – was filled with Democrats grilling Comey on ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Republicans, meanwhile, pressed for more details on who leaked classified information to the media.
Lawmakers were typically tight-lipped as they walked out of Thursday’s closed-door briefing at the Capitol, but several sources said there was a general frustration at the lack of information Comey provided.
Still, the top two leaders of the inquiry spoke positively about the hearing. In a brief statement afterward, the two leaders of the House investigation, Republican Rep. Mike Conaway and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, thanked Comey and Rogers for showing up, but offered few details.
“Today’s hearing provided our committee members with a valuable opportunity to ask follow up questions from the open hearing we convened with Directors Comey and Rogers a month ago. We remain committed to working with the FBI as they continue their investigation to ensure that no stone is unturned,” Conaway and Schiff said in a joint statement.
The two lawmakers also said that they were sending invitations to witnesses to testify and issuing requests for “pertinent documents.” House investigators signed off on a bipartisan list of three-four dozen witnesses last week and have been working to bring in former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for a public hearing.
Later, Schiff told CNN the panel focused on three core areas.
“We want to make sure the conclusions the intelligence community reached are supported by the underlying raw data. We also were obviously very interested in the US government response when we knew the Russians had hacked us, as well as the issue of whether US persons affiliated with the Trump campaign were coordinating in any way,” Schiff told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday. “I think the witnesses were responsive to those questions.”
The hearing comes just one day after Comey beat back a series of questions about the Russia investigation from senators on the Senate judiciary committee. Democratic and Republican senators spent a large amount of time questioning Comey Wednesday on his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Members of the House intelligence committee said Thursday they planned to focus their inquiry more on Russia and connections to the campaign of President Donald Trump.
Schiff also said that he is working with the Justice Department and the FBI to get the other House Russia investigators access to intelligence that has been limited only to the “Gang of Eight” – comprised of the four Democratic and Republicans leaders in the House and Senate, and the four Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
After weeks of turmoil, Thursday’s hearing is the latest sign that the House Russia investigation is rebooting, one month after House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes recused himself from leading the probe, after becoming the subject of a House ethics probe himself amid allegations he discussed classified information.
Shortly after taking the lead of the investigation, Conaway asked committee Democrats to cool their criticism in public so he could get his footing. They obliged, as part of an investigation “reset” which appears to be holding.
Comey has been tight-lipped about the FBI’s ongoing Trump-Russia investigation, but he did divulge some additional information at his hearing before the Senate judiciary committee Wednesday – including telling senators that Yates alerted him to former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lying about calls with the Russian ambassador and the potential for him to be blackmailed.
Conaway and Schiff also agreed to set a new date for a public hearing with Yates, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But as of Tuesday, Schiff said they were still negotiating with Yates’ lawyers on when to bring them in.
The last time Comey and Rogers were at the Capitol, the news was dominated by the stunning revelation from Comey that the FBI had been investigating potential coordination between aides to the Trump campaign and Russian operatives since last July. The day after Comey’s announcement, Nunes took a clandestine trip to the White House as part of a cascade of events that almost derailed the House Russia investigation, but instead ended with the Nunes stepping aside from leading the investigation.
House investigators originally planned to hear from Yates and others at a March 28 public hearing, but Nunes canceled that hearing in favor of bringing in Comey and Rogers for a private hearing. But that second Comey hearing was also delayed amid squabbling between Nunes and Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat.
Thursday’s private hearing marks the return to relative normalcy for the investigators, now under the GOP leadership of Conaway, Tom Rooney of Florida and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.