A crucial email string sent by top FBI and Justice Department (DOJ) officials in late 2016 is expected to become the subject of some of the most difficult queries for former FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill on Dec. 7, as he faces Republican lawmakers in a private interview.
Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch are the last witnesses to be interviewed by the joint task force of House lawmakers as they conclude a year-long investigation, which has uncovered potential abuses of government surveillance against the Trump campaign, among other issues.
The email thread in question was handed to lawmakers after months of requests. According to House Intelligence Community Chairman Devin Nunes, the thread shows FBI officials were aware of evidence being withheld from a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court when the bureau applied for a warrant to spy on former Trump-campaign associate Carter Page.
“For months we have been reviewing emails between the FBI and DOJ and others that clearly show they knew about information that should have been presented to the FISA court,” Nunes told Fox News on Nov. 18. “It is real evidence that people within the FBI withheld evidence from the FISA court.”
The emails were handed to lawmakers in redacted form and remain classified. They make up one of four classified document troves that lawmakers are demanding to be released to the public.
Comey signed three of the four FISA applications to monitor Page, personally certifying that Page is “an agent of Government of Russia.” Page vehemently denies that allegation and was never charged with a crime after a year of surveillance.
The core of the evidence for the FISA application consisted of the Steele dossier, an opposition research document filled with unverified claims about President Donald Trump. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the document, a fact that top FBI and DOJ officials withheld from the FISA court.
Besides its funding, several other issues with the dossier were left out from the FISA application, including the fact that Christopher Steele, an ex-spy from the UK who wrote the dossier, was biased against Trump and broke the FBI’s rules for confidential human sources by talking to the media.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte issued subpoenas to Comey and Lynch in late November. Comey launched a brief legal attempt to quash the subpoena, but withdrew the suit after the committee agreed to make his testimony voluntary rather than compelled.
President Donald Trump fired Comey in May last year, triggering a series of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended Comey’s dismissal.
In a letter (pdf) explaining his recommendation, Rosenstein said Comey usurped the power of the attorney general, broke with established practice for announcing declined criminal investigations, and refused to admit his errors.
The committee will provide Comey with a full transcript of the testimony and he will be free to discuss the proceedings.
In January, Democrats will take control of the House and likely terminate investigations initiated by Republicans. The joint task force is expected to release a report on the probe by the end of the year.