Want to prepare for the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing on Thursday? Buckle up.
Democrats led by Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia are angry enough to blow the dome off the Capitol after the man they expected to be a star witness — James Comey — was removed from office as FBI director by President Trump on Tuesday.
And some Republicans are annoyed at the man who'll be sitting in Comey's chair instead, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, because they say he's too close to Democrats. His wife, Jill, recently ran for the state Senate in Virginia with support from Gov. Terry McAullife, a close ally of Hillary Clinton.
McCabe became acting FBI director on Tuesday automatically after Comey's dismissal, but Justice Department officials say Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are already interviewing candidates to take McCabe's place as an interim leader before they begin their search for a nominee whose name Trump would send to the Senate.
And Comey is still in the mix — on Wednesday night CNN released a letter by the former director to FBI employees, which said in part that "it is very hard to leave a group of people who are committed only to doing the right thing." Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., has asked him to attend a closed session with committee members scheduled for next Tuesday, May 16, but it wasn't immediately clear whether Comey had agreed.
So as senators convene on Thursday morning, what originally was scheduled as a routine check-in by the heads of America's big spy agencies has become center stage for the next act in the biggest melodrama in Washington.
Here are some of the subplots that may get an update:
- Burr and Warner asked Comey to pick up the pace of the FBI's investigation into potential ties between President Trump's campaign aides and the Russian interference in last year's elections, according to CNN. Will they confirm as much openly?
- The Senate committee has asked a Treasury Department criminal unit, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, for information about Trump and his top aides in the form of tax and other financial records. What specifically is the committee looking for, and how has Treasury responded?
- Comey asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for more support for the Russia investigation just before he was fired. Then he briefed key senators on that request, according to people with knowledge of the matter. What more help does the FBI need? Did that request play any role in the recommendation by Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Trump fire him? (The White House continued to maintain Wednesday that Trump's decision was premised on Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation last year.)
The Thursday hearing likely will not offer conclusive answers to any of these questions, but members of the panel in both parties have said they were shaken up by Comey's dismissal and they seem certain to talk about it.
Another issue likely to be raised and not resolved is the issue of a special outside investigation, or select congressional committee, or special prosecutor to take the reins of the ongoing Russia investigations. Some Democrats have been calling for some form or another of an independent investigation for months, but Republican majorities in the House and Senate will not go along.
"These partisan calls should not delay the work of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner," as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. "Too much is at stake."
If the Senate and House committee investigations of the Russia imbroglio are moving on, lawmakers will be listening closely to McCabe for any clues about the FBI's own investigation, the only one with the prospect of resulting in criminal charges.
A White House spokeswoman on Wednesday dismissed the idea that Trump had tried to intimidate the FBI investigators, attorneys or others involved in its counterintelligence investigation. There's no reason the FBI cannot continue to do anything it was doing before, she said.
According to one member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that should go for Comey too: Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, told CNN that he thought the committee's professional staff could use the former G-Man.
"It seems to me the Intelligence Committee should hire James Comey to run our investigation," King said. "He's already got his clearances. He knows the subject. He's a man of integrity."
As King also pointed out, Comey is now a man out of a job.