- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2018

Former FBI Director James B. Comey told lawmakers Friday the Russian probe began with the surveillance of four Americans but signaled the counterintelligence investigation was not into Donald Trump or his presidential campaign.

Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, asked Mr. Comey in a closed-door interview about the start of the Russian inquiry in July of 2016, asking if the government opened the examination on “the Trump campaign or Donald Trump himself.”

Mr. Comey said neither of those would be “fair to say.”

“We opened investigations on four Americans to see if there was any connection between those four Americans and the Russian interference effort. And those four Americans did not include the candidate,” said Mr. Comey, who led the probe until his firing in May of 2016.

He was also quizzed about former FBI agent Peter Strozk and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who exchanged thousands of anti-Trump text messages, despite both actively investigating potential Russian interference and conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.

They also helped Mr. Comey draft his public statement exonerating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton from any illegal conduct in her mishandling of government email.

“If I had known about those things that they were communicating that I’ve seen in open source, I would not have had them stay on the — playing any role in connection with that investigation,” Mr. Comey said, chiding any appearance of bias.

He also dismissed any claim that he and special counsel Robert Mueller are friends, as the president has asserted, suggesting Mr. Mueller has a conflict of interest overseeing the Russia investigation.

“I admire the heck out of the man, but I don’t know his phone number, I’ve never been to his house, I don’t know his children’s names. I think I had a meal once alone with him in a restaurant. I like him. I am not a — I’m an associate of his who admires him greatly. We’re not friends in any social sense,” Mr. Comey told lawmakers.

Republicans are calling him back in a couple weeks to testify again on Dec. 17.

GOP lawmakers, about to lose the power of the gavel in the House when they slip into the minority next year, had wanted one last crack at Mr. Comey, who they saw as the center of botched decisions at the FBI not to investigate Mrs. Clinton and instead to focus on President Trump.

Friday’s hearing happened behind closed doors, but Mr. Comey insisted a transcript be released within 24 hours as one of his conditions for testifying. He said that was intended to prevent Republicans from misconstruing what he said.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released the 235-page transcript, as promised, Saturday afternoon.

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