Senate Judiciary Committee tells Trump to turn over Comey tapes

WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) — Congressional Republicans appeared to be digging in Wednesday for a long investigation of President Trump amid reports this week that he shared sensitive intelligence information with the Russians and asked former FBI director James Comey to shut down the bureau's probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday he supports House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz's request to acting FBI director Andrew McCabe for copies of Comey's reported memos documenting his conversations with Trump, and any other notes, summaries or recordings of communications between them.

The Utah Republican tweeted Tuesday night, "I need to see (the Comey memo) sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready."

Ryan said that investigation and ongoing investigations by the House and Senate Intelligence committees should not be rushed despite the pressure of a 24-hour news cycle.

"Now is the time to gather all of the pertinent information," Ryan said. "Our job is to be responsible, sober and concentrate on gathering the facts."

Ryan added, "that obviously takes some time."

"We can't deal with speculation and innuendo," he said. "And there's clearly a lot of politics being played. Our job is to get the facts and to be sober about doing that."

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the panel's senior Democrat, said Wednesday that they sent a letter to Comey asking him to appear before the committee for both open and closed sessions. They also sent a letter to McCabe seeking any memos or notes Comey prepared regarding any communications he had with senior White House and Justice Department officials related to investigations into Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“I’ve got questions about the president’s comments about tapes — secret tapes, we have questions about transcripts with the meeting with the Russians (in the White House), we’ve got questions about obtaining former director Comey’s memo and that’s just Wednesday,” Warner told reporters. He added that he expected to get a response from McCabe within the next 72 hours and to hear from Comey by "early next week about whether he’ll accept our request.”

Shortly after, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued requests to the FBI and White House: all records related to conversations between Comey, his superiors, and Trump, including any audio recordings. Trump had previously indicated there may be recordings of the conversations he had with Comey.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee said there needed to be hearings with Comey. But Feinstein refused to say the facts as reported were an impeachable offense.

“I’ve been through an impeachment hearing and they’re not good for the country let alone the individual and I think until we know much more that this should remain where it is today — off the table," she said.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Republicans in Congress were openly criticizing the president, with one even mentioning impeachment and another raising the specter of Watergate.

Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan conservative, told reporters Tuesday that if the allegations in the reported Comey memo are true, it was grounds for impeachment. Amash, who has consistently been critical of the president, was the first Republican lawmaker to raise impeachment publicly.

While some rank-and-file Democrats have talked about impeachment, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has distanced himself so far from that call, saying that it is too early to jump to conclusions without a thorough investigation.

Amash also joined Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., in signing onto a Democrat-sponsored bill to create an independent commission that would investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Some other GOP lawmakers — Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Steve Knight of California, Darrell Issa of California and Tom McClintock of California — have also called for some type of independent investigations but have not signed onto any legislation. Most of them are up for re-election in districts Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., compared the growing scandals to Watergate.

"I think we’ve seen this movie before. I think it appears at a point where it’s of Watergate-size and scale. ... The shoes continue to drop, and every couple days there’s a new aspect,” McCain was quoted as saying by The Daily Beast during a dinner in Washington D.C., on Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday that he wanted Comey to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. McCain and Graham have been critical of Trump and of Russia in the past.

“I’m hopeful we can reach agreement in a bipartisan fashion on how to move forward in a professional manner,” Graham said. “The sooner Mr. Comey testifies publicly before the Judiciary Committee, the better for our nation. For all practical purposes, the political process will be ground to a halt by these allegations ... I will follow the facts, wherever they may lead."

Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said that while Graham wants Comey to testify, he had not yet extended a formal invitation to the former FBI director.

The controversies swirling around Trump are derailing Republican leaders' efforts to focus on passing their — and Trump's — agenda to enact tax reform and replace Obamacare with a new health care law.

Ryan and other House GOP leaders touted their tax reform efforts at a news conference Wednesday, but Ryan was forced to answer question after question on Trump, Russia, and Comey.

"We're going to keep doing our job; we're going to keep passing our bills," Ryan said. "And that's what we will be judged on in 2018. Did we make people's lives better?"

However, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the White House drama hurts those efforts.

"Whenever there’s drama going over there, it’s tougher for the agenda here," said Flake, who is considered vulnerable in his bid for re-election next year. "But I suppose it’s going to continue, so we’ll have to get used to it ... It would be nice to have a drama-free week, it really would."

Schumer said he was glad to see McCain and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee express strong concerns about Trump's actions.

"It’s a good first step, but it’s not enough," Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "In the past 24 hours, there has been more movement among Republicans in the House than here in the Senate. The Senate by its traditions should be leading this effort, not following."

Schumer told his Republican colleagues: "America needs you to help pressure the Deputy Attorney General (Rod Rosenstein) to name a special prosecutor. To compel this White House to turn over the transcripts and tapes to Congress. To demonstrate that Congress, that the American people elected — Democrats and Republicans — can come together to do the right thing when it matters most."

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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