Special counsel’s probe includes Manafort case
WASHINGTON, June 3, (Agencies): White House officials said on Friday they did not know yet whether President Donald Trump would seek to block former FBI Director James Comey from testifying to Congress next week, a move that could spark a political backlash. “I have not spoken to counsel yet. I don’t know how they’re going to respond,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters. Comey was leading a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s US presidential election and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign when the president fired him last month. Critics have charged that Trump was seeking to hinder the FBI’s investigation by dismissing Comey.
The former FBI chief is due to testify on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its own Russia-related investigation, and his remarks could cause problems for the Republican president. Comey is widely expected to be asked about conversations in which the president reportedly pressured him to drop an investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, whose ties to Russia are under scrutiny.
Critics have said that such pressure could potentially amount to obstruction of justice. Presidents can assert executive privilege to prevent government employees from sharing information. However, legal experts say it is not clear whether certain conversations between Trump and Comey that the president has talked about publicly would be covered, and any effort to block Comey, who is now a private citizen, from testifying could be challenged in court. Democratic lawmakers sent White House counsel Donald McGahn a letter warning that invoking executive privilege “would be seen as an effort to obstruct the truth from both Congress and the American people.”
In an interview with ABC News, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared to indicate the president would allow Comey to testify. “We’ll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies,” she said. But asked directly whether Trump would invoke executive privilege on Comey’s testimony, she added: “The president will make that decision.” Amid a political firestorm touched off by Comey’s firing, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel last month to take the lead on the Russia investigation. US intelligence agencies have concluded the Russian government sought to infl uence the US election in Trump’s favor, a charge Russia has denied. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, said on Thursday some Russians may have acted on their own. Trump, who has raised doubts about the US agencies’ findings and denounced the continuing Russia probes, has denied any collusion. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigating possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s government has taken over a separate criminal probe involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and may expand his inquiry to investigate the roles of the attorney general and deputy attorney general in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, The Associated Press has learned. The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Manafort, who was forced to resign as Trump campaign chairman in August amid questions over his business dealings years ago in Ukraine, predated the 2016 election and the counterintelligence probe that in July began investigating possible collusion between Moscow and associates of Trump