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Former FBI Director James Comey Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee


Two House committees hauled former FBI Director James Comey back to Capitol Hill today to testify behind closed doors. The grilling took about seven hours, and at the end, Comey agreed to come back for more questions. House Republicans are trying to squeeze this in their last month before Democrats take control of the chamber in January.

NPR's Tim Mak has been staking out that closed committee room all day today. He joins us now from the Capitol. Hey there, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So I guess your reward for staking out that closed (laughter) committee room all day long today - I'm sorry for that duty you had to endure - was Comey did finally emerge. And he talked to reporters. What did he have to say?

MAK: That's right. He talked about what he was asked about. And the former FBI director stressed that the questions were familiar topics. Here he is outside the House Judiciary Committee's offices.


JAMES COMEY: Two things are clear to me. One, we could have done this in open setting and, two, when you read the transcript, you will see that we are talking again about Hillary Clinton's emails, for heaven's sake. So I'm not sure we need to do this at all, but I'm trying to respect the institution and to answer questions in a respectful way.

MAK: But he also explained why he couldn't answer some questions from Republican lawmakers.

KELLY: Right. And Republicans have been complaining about that he didn't answer their questions. What were they telling you when they came out of that closed room?

MAK: Well, they were frustrated. Here's Congressman Darrell Issa. He's a Republican. He's coming out of the interview earlier today.


DARRELL ISSA: One of the disappointments in this deposition so far has been the amount of times in which the FBI believes that Congress doesn't have a right to know not based on classification or something above our level but based on the vague interest of various elements. And the details of that will obviously come out with the transcript.

MAK: Issa told reporters that even though Comey is no longer employed with the FBI, he was accompanied by a lawyer from the Department of Justice who repeatedly instructed him not to answer various questions. But Comey explained that because of ongoing FBI investigations, it was not appropriate for him to answer any questions related to those. So the GOP insisted they wanted Comey to come back, and he said he would the week after next.

KELLY: Well, we should put this into context here, Tim, because this trading back and forth of - disputing back and forth between House Republicans and Comey - this has gone on for a while.

MAK: That's right. Some House Republicans view Comey as part of the so-called deep state representing a persistent anti-Trump presence in the administration and particularly in the Justice Department. Trump and House Republicans have said that Comey mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server and suggested that there has been misconduct at the FBI. But Democrats, on the other hand, think that this has all been a needless exercise. Here's Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi.


RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: I was left with the impression that basically this is a big wild goose chase.

MAK: So at first Comey resisted a subpoena demanding that he appear before Congress, which he eventually did today. He originally argued that any interviews should be done in the public eye rather than behind closed doors. He eventually relented when the committees agreed to put out a public transcript of the interview. And we should expect to see that within 24 hours.

KELLY: And again, he's coming back week after next, you said. What do House Republicans still want to ask him after these seven hours of testimony today?

MAK: Well, so there haven't been any staggering new developments that make it obvious why they'd want to talk to Comey now. You heard that clip of him earlier. He said that they were asking mostly about Hillary Clinton's emails again. It appears to be, in one way, that this is going to be one of the last chances that House Republicans have to question Comey because Democrats will be taking over the House come January.

KELLY: So they're going to question him because they can. NPR's Tim Mak on Capitol Hill - thank you, Tim.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.