Comey and former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch were given subpoenas last week to appear before the committees as part of the committees’ investigation of two politically charged probes into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Comey said on Twitter that he was willing to testify publicly but would resist doing so behind closed doors.
“Let the American people watch,” he said in a tweet announcing the court filings.
Comey was to testify on Dec. 3 and Lynch on Dec. 4. A spokesman for Lynch declined to comment.
In the court filing, Comey’s lawyers alleged the committees were “leaking what suits them,” and — aided by President Trump’s tweets — were trying to promote the public narrative that Clinton was given “unwarranted leniency” by federal law enforcement while Trump was hit with “unwarranted scrutiny.”
“The broader purpose of these leaks and tweets appears to be to mislead the public and undermine public confidence in the FBI and DOJ during a time when President Trump and members of his administration and campaign team are reported to be under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other law enforcement authorities,” the lawyers wrote.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) wrote on Twitter: “It appears Mr. Comey believes he deserves special treatment, as he is the only witness refusing to either appear voluntarily or comply with a subpoena. He needs to appear before the Committees, as all other witnesses have done. Let the facts come to light.”
Comey’s lawyers cited several examples of apparent congressional leaks about closed-door hearings, and even referenced Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy’s recent appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in which he agreed that leaks from Congress were a problem.
In the same appearance, Gowdy (R-S.C.) had suggested videotaping the closed-door hearing as a way to ease concerns about selective disclosures.
Comey’s lawyers noted the former FBI director had testified several times about both the Clinton and Russia probes when he was still in his job, but argued that since being fired by Trump, he had relinquished his security clearances. The lawyers said the committees’ had indicated Comey could obtain a “provisional” clearance so he could testify about sensitive matters, but he would refuse to accept such a clearance if the interview were behind closed doors.
Even if a judge were to grant only Comey’s request to postpone the hearing, that might undercut the subpoena entirely. Democrats are poised to take control of the House in January — and with it the power to issue subpoenas — and are unlikely to pursue the investigation that has been driven by their Republican colleagues.
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.