Comey will be ordered to appear for a deposition on Nov. 29, while Lynch will be ordered to appear on Dec. 5. Panel rules stipulate that Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) must give 48 hours’ notice before issuing the subpoenas.
Representatives for Comey and Lynch did not immediately respond to queries about whether they would appear for the closed-door interviews, though both have expressed a willingness to speak to the panel. Comey stated earlier this year that while he is ready to be interviewed, he would agree only to a public session.
Comey and Lynch have spoken to other congressional panels investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. But they have yet to be interviewed as part of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees’ joint probe, which Democrats have decried as a blatant attempt to undermine confidence in the federal law enforcement agencies — and by extension, the basis of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.
Democratic lawmakers are increasingly concerned that Mueller’s probe may be under internal threat after Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointed his former chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, as acting attorney general, overseeing the probe. Lawmakers from both parties have questioned the constitutionality of that decision, noting that Whitaker was never confirmed by the Senate to his job, and argued that his public statements reveal an anti-Mueller bias too strong to allow him to assume authority over the investigation.
In the Senate, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake — who is retiring at the end of the year — has insisted he will not vote to advance any of Trump’s judicial nominees until the body votes on a measure to protect the special counsel from being fired without cause. In the House, that measure stands little chance of being taken up before the end of 2018 — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has said he does not think it is necessary.
House Republicans are keenly aware that they have only a few weeks left to call the shots on panels that have been investigating the officials investigating Trump — and the subpoenas for Comey and Lynch seem to reflect that they will be using their authority until they are forced to hand committee gavels, and the subpoena power that comes with them, to the Democrats at the start of next year.
“It is unfortunate that the outgoing Majority is resorting to these tactics,” the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), who is expected to take over as chairman next year, said in a statement. “These subpoenas are coming out of the blue, with very little time left on the calendar, and after the American people have resoundingly rejected the GOP’s approach to oversight — if, indeed, ‘oversight’ is the word we should use for running interference for President Trump.”
It remains to be seen whether panel Republicans will attempt to force other witnesses, particularly Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, to appear for interviews in the weeks that remain. Last month, Rosenstein agreed to speak only to the committee chairmen and ranking Democrats — an arrangement that angered rank-and-file Republicans, who said Rosenstein should not get special treatment. The session never happened, however, because of time constraints.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of a band of members who have tried to orchestrate Rosenstein’s impeachment, is expected to run for the top Republican slot on the Judiciary or Oversight committee next year. Thursday on Twitter, he questioned why Rosenstein had not been brought to Capitol Hill to face a reckoning over reports that he proposed taping interactions with Trump and attempting to remove him from office by invoking the 25th Amendment — a sign that Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are going to keep insisting on an interview.
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.