So much for running out the clock. Rather than take his chances in court, James Comey decided to take a small concession from the House panel that subpoenaed him. Comey withdrew his lawsuit against the House Judiciary and Oversight Committee that asked a federal judge to quash the subpoena and will submit to questioning at the end of the week:
Former FBI Director James Comey on Sunday withdrew a legal challenge that sought to quash a congressional subpoena compelling him to testify in secret about the bureau’s decisions on investigations ahead of the 2016 presidential election, his lawyer said.
Comey agreed to sit down for a closed-door deposition on Friday. Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee pledged to provide Comey with a full transcript within 24 hours of his testimony, and he will be permitted to “make any or all of that transcript public,” Comey’s lawyer David Kelley told Reuters in a statement.
Comey and the Republican lawmakers reached the new agreement the day before lawyers were to appear at a court hearing. A judge had been set to issue a ruling on Comey’s request to quash the subpoena and halt congressional proceedings – a request that has never previously been granted by a judge in the United States.
And it wasn’t going to be granted in this case, either. The federal judiciary has no jurisdiction over the process by which Congress chooses to conduct its own investigations and its hearings except to the extent that it crosses constitutional lines. The choice of public or closed-door hearings don’t even come close to those boundaries. Congress routinely conducts closed-session hearings when dealing with intelligence matters, and Comey’s status as a former FBI director and the panel’s interest in both the Hillary Clinton and Russia-collusion probes falls squarely in that area.
Comey’s withdrawal is a mild surprise nonetheless, as it seemed as though his intent was to keep the HJOC tied up until the change of majority in January. The concession Comey received directly relates to his complaint, which was that HJOC members would selectively leak information to make him look bad. Now he can release the transcript himself, but that sets up a potential conundrum: what if Comey genuinely winds up looking bad? If Comey doesn’t release the transcript immediately, can we assume he did?
On the other hand, should we assume that classified matters will be redacted from the transcript? If not, then it would seem there wasn’t anything classified to discuss. If that ends up being the case, it will raise the question: why did this have to go into closed session? Even apart from that, if the HJOC has no trouble with giving Comey the transcript, why not just offer that up front when Comey made the rational complaint about leaks? Hmmm.
HJOC chair-for-now Bob Goodlatte had accused Comey of “running out the clock,” but he predicted yesterday morning that Comey would withdraw the suit. He told Fox News that the attorneys for both sides had been working “cooperatively” to find a reasonable accommodation:
Goodlatte was right about that much. Now we have to see whether he actually has anything on Comey, or whether this was just a fishing expedition.