(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump won’t try to stop former FBI Director James Comey from testifying to the Senate this week about investigations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election that could touch on Trump as well as his current and former associates.
Trump won’t invoke executive privilege when Comey appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Monday. Comey, who was fired by Trump last month, is expected to be asked about conversations he had with the president, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
“The President’s power to assert executive privilege is well-established,” according to a White House statement sent soon after Sanders spoke. “However, in order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump will not assert executive privilege regarding James Comey’s scheduled testimony.”
The decision eases concerns that Trump would make a last-minute move to stymie Comey’s appearance, though many legal experts said it wasn’t clear that the White House would have had grounds to invoke executive privilege in this case. There may still be issues Comey declines to answer in the public hearing after consulting with Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to oversee the Russia probe in the wake of Comey’s firing.
“In the context of a criminal investigation, executive privilege has to give way," Saikrishna Prakash, who lectures on constitutional law and presidential powers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said before the announcement.
Comey’s testimony will take place a day after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and the heads of the National Security Agency and Office of the Director of National Intelligence testify to the same Senate panel. While that hearing is ostensibly on aspects of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the witnesses are expected to be asked a number of questions about Russia, the election and Comey.
After Comey’s public testimony on Thursday morning, the Senate panel is scheduled to have a closed hearing in the afternoon, during which sensitive or classified information can be more freely discussed.
Scope of Questioning
After Comey’s firing, reports emerged that Trump had asked the FBI chief to assure the president of his loyalty and to ease up on his probe of Flynn. It also was disclosed that investigation included the activities of the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who’s a senior White House adviser. Comey will also be asked about Trump’s assertion that the former FBI chief told him on three occasions that he wasn’t the subject of a probe.
Marc Short, the administration’s head of legislative affairs, said the Russia investigation is having an effect on the president’s agenda.
“There’s no doubt that keeping members focused on the investigation detracts from our legislative agenda, detracts from what we’re trying to do for the American people.”
The president has seemed to acknowledge that some people around him during and after the campaign might get entangled in the federal probe, even as he dismisses it as a “witch hunt.”
"I know that I’m not under investigation. Me. Personally," Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt last month. "I’m not talking about campaigns. I’m not talking about anything else."
Comey’s dismissal was a shock to many in Washington -- only one previous FBI director had ever been fired -- and it came a day before Trump welcomed senior Russian diplomats to a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office. Just over a week later, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that Mueller would be special counsel.