Republicans say former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony is obvious vindication for an embattled President Donald Trump. Democrats see new evidence of a president looking to obstruct justice.
Comey will appear Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee for a highly anticipated hearing, and senators Wednesday offered predictably partisan takes from his prepared remarks.
Their reactions mirrored, and probably heightened, a partisan split that congressional investigators have sought to avoid as they look into potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. And it signals that any hope for bipartisan cooperation in the ongoing probe of any Trump-Russia connection will remain elusive.
Comey will tell the panel that in a series of meetings and phone calls, Trump demanded his loyalty and asked him to back off investigating an aide's reported ties to Russia, tactics that Democrats say point to obstruction.
Congressional Republicans seized on Comey's remarks that he three times told Trump he personally wasn't under investigation. That fits with what Trump has asserted.
“It would have been quite another matter to fire (Comey) if (Comey) had said, ‘Yes, you are under investigation,’ “ said Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the Senate Republican leadership team. “If you’re under investigation, it raises questions. But if there’s no investigation, then clearly his firing was based on other issues.”
The Republican National Committee made the same point in an email.
"President Trump was right," said RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who Trump chose to head the GOP. “"Director Comey’s statement reconfirmed what the president has been saying all along – he was never under investigation."
Yet Comey will say that Trump sought his loyalty and repeatedly fretted to Comey about how to resolve what he called “the cloud” caused by the investigation.
Comey said in his prepared remarks that he did not tell Trump that the FBI was reluctant to make a public statement that there was no open case on Trump “for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he had heard the revelations were “disturbing,” adding “I think there’s going to be many shoes to drop before this one is over.”
The release of Comey’s prepared remarks came just as senators were casting votes on other matters and few had a chance to digest the full text. But Democrats weren’t reluctant to say they were troubled by what they had heard.
“What we’re watching in real time is an obstruction of justice case unfolding,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “The more I learn, the more troubled I am and the more deeply I am convinced that the special prosecutor is going to find some fire where there is smoke.”
And Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called it “beyond inappropriate” for Trump to “try to impose himself on an FBI investigation.”
Katishi Maake of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed to this story