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Flynn puts FBI director back in spotlight
The spotlight is back on FBI Director James Comey thanks to Michael Flynn's resignation as national security adviser.
Comey, whom Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign blamed for her loss in last year's presidential election, is now reportedly presiding over an investigation that appears to have implicated one of President Trump's top aides.
Republicans and Democrats alike are watching closely, putting pressure on the bureau for a public accounting.
Democrats want to know exactly what Flynn said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – and on whose orders – amid ongoing scrutiny into a widespread influence campaign by Moscow intended to help install Trump in the White House.
"The much bigger issue is, what is the connection with Russia and the Trump administration? It's not only how far up does it go – was the campaign in collusion?" said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Republicans have been more muted about a probe into a Republican president and instead have attempted to shift focus to the wiretap that reportedly exposed Flynn's conversations with Kislyak to the FBI – and the subsequent press leaks that revealed the wiretaps.
"I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who was a member of the Trump transition team executive committee, told The Washington Post.
"The big problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who had his phone calls recorded," said Nunes, who announced Tuesday that his committee would probe the leaks.
Comey was perhaps the most controversial figure in Washington in the weeks surrounding the 2016 election – but he has been conspicuously quiet since Nov. 8, both on and off the Hill.
Democrats blamed Comey for costing Clinton the White House after he announced the FBI was looking at new information related to her use of a private email server just a little more than a week before Election Day. Days before the election, Comey said the FBI had found no information to change its earlier decision.
But Republicans have also expressed displeasure with Comey.
He won GOP ire when over the summer he announced the FBI would not be recommending any charges against Clinton.
Comey's presence has been in the background in recent weeks.
The FBI director briefed Trump about Russia's involvement in the election in early January at a meeting at Trump Tower.
During the meeting, Comey also let Trump know of a dossier of memos prepared by a former British spy for political rivals to Trump. The memos included claims that Russia was seeking information that could be used as leverage against Trump.
Trump in late January reportedly decided to keep Comey on as FBI director. The decision ensured that Comey, a Republican, would be involved in any probes of Trump related to Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
Flynn's activities – which also include a paid speech he gave in Moscow in 2015 – will almost certainly be examined by the FBI. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the FBI interviewed Flynn in the first days of the Trump administration.
Following a deeply contentious classified briefing on the Hill in January, furious Democrats accused Comey of a double standard – and in some cases, called for his removal.
Asked if he had faith in the FBI to conduct the reported Russia investigation in good faith, Nadler on Tuesday answered: "I don't know."
Lawmakers are divided on whether they believe that Comey set his own precedent with the Clinton disclosures and will therefore be forced to go public with details of the Russia probe.
"He twice made the decision that in light of the high public awareness, to try to clear the air – and no air got cleared," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said.
"I'm not going to disagree that he will live by that experience of, no matter what his reasons, it did not advance the trust in the FBI when he was honest and forthcoming."
But Comey has long been known as a maverick – he has described himself as "tone deaf" to politics. Facing down fierce demands from Democrats to confirm the Russia probe in January, he was described as unflinching and defiant.
"I have a sense that the man is trying to do what he thinks is right – because he has made everyone mad. To me, that's a sign of a guy who really believes he is trying to affect his office in a way commensurate with his oath," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
[Source: By Katie Bo Williams, The Hill, Washington, 15Feb17]
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