(CNN) — Former FBI Director James Comey faces off with Senate Republicans on Wednesday over the FBI’s 2016 Russia investigation in a hearing that’s being held fewer than six weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to press Comey on everything from the decision to open the Russia investigation in July 2016 to the memos detailing his conversations with President Donald Trump that he leaked following his firing to try to push the appointment of a special counsel.
Newly released declassified documents from the Trump administration in recent days — which have attacked the FBI’s Russia investigation, the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Hillary Clinton’s campaign — have provided additional fodder for Republicans to question the former FBI director, not to mention Trump’s Twitter feed.
Democrats, too, may still have questions for Comey about his actions related to the FBI’s Clinton email investigation during the 2016 election, which Democrats, including Clinton herself, say contributed to her loss to Trump.
Comey has been out of the government for more than three years now, following President Donald Trump’s May 2017 firing. But the FBI’s actions that occurred during Comey’s tenure are still being fought over in the courts, Congress and the President’s Twitter feed.
The FBI’s investigation and former special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of Flynn is still being fought in court, after the Justice Department sought to dismiss the charges earlier this year. Along with two Senate Republican probes, US Attorney John Durham is investigating the FBI’s Russia investigation at the direction of Attorney General William Barr, though Durham’s work is not expected to conclude before the election.
Comey himself is the focus of a new Showtime series, “The Comey Rule,” which is based on his memoir last year and offers a sympathetic portrayal of the former FBI director and the bureau.
Comey is sure to find a more hostile audience inside the Senate hearing room on Wednesday.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham is scrutinizing the origins of the Russia investigation that became Mueller’s probe, along with a scathing Justice Department inspector general report that found the FBI’s Foreign intelligence Surveillance Act warrants for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page were riddled with errors and relied on an unverified opposition research dossier authored by Christopher Steele.
The inspector general also criticized Comey last year for violating agency policies when he kept and then leaked the memos of his conversations with Trump.
Comey has acknowledged the problems with the FISA warrants outlined by the inspector general, saying last year there was “real sloppiness” that was concerning. Comey testified in 2018 before the House Republican-led Oversight and Judiciary Committees that were also probing the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation.
Graham and other Republican critics have argued that the problems with the dossier and the Page FISA warrants undercut the legitimacy FBI’s Russia investigation, though it began before the dossier was given to the FBI.
Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates have testified publicly. Graham has scheduled a hearing with former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe next week.
The investigations being conducted by Graham and Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is running a separate probe, have been boosted by freshly declassified documents this year coming from Barr and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
The declassified releases from Ratcliffe and Barr have been touted by Trump and his campaign, in the absence of a report from Durham, who is not expected to conclude his work before the election, according to sources and Barr’s own recent public comments.
On Tuesday, Ratcliffe released unverified Russian intelligence suggesting Clinton approved a campaign plan to “stir up a scandal” by tying Trump to Russia and the Democratic National Committee hack, which Democrats charged was Russian disinformation (Ratcliffe denied this).
Last week, the Justice Department declassified documents related to an FBI investigation into Steele’s primary subsource for the dossier over connections to Russian intelligence officials. And Justice Department prosecutors in the past month conducted and released notes from an interview with a former FBI case agent critical of the Russia investigation and the prosecution of Flynn.
While Graham has continued to scheduled hearings related to the FBI Russia probe, he’s about to be consumed with the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Asked last week if he was still planning to issue a report on the Russia probe before the election, Graham was unsure. “It might be pushed back a little bit. I hadn’t thought about that,” Graham said with a laugh, in a nod to the Supreme Court hearings and expected committee vote later this month.