On Friday, media speculation emerged that the Trump administration may seek to block former FBI director James Comey’s testimony scheduled for next Thursday after White House officials said that they did not know yet whether President Donald Trump would seek to block Comey’s testimony, a move that would spark another huge political backlash against the president. Speaking to reporters, Sean Spicer said “I have not spoken to counsel yet. I don’t know how they’re going to respond.”
As a reminder, the former FBI chief who was leading a probe into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election and was fired by Trump last month, is due to testify on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its own Russia-related investigation, and his remarks could “cause problems” for the Republican president per Reuters.
While invoking executive privilege can be a politically treacherous move, recalling past scandals like Watergate, in which Nixon asserted the power in efforts to block congressional investigations, it is worth recalling that none other than former President Barack Obama used the legal authority once, during congressional inquiries into the “Fast and Furious” scandal, after weapons ended up in the possession of Mexican gun cartels.
As Reuters further adds, “presidents can assert executive privilege to prevent government employees from sharing information. However, legal experts say it is not clear whether certain conversations between Trump and Comey that the president has talked about publicly would be covered, and any effort to block Comey, who is now a private citizen, from testifying could be challenged in court.” Furthermore, Trump’s tweets about Mr. Comey would damage any claim of executive privilege.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump said in one post, shortly after The New York Times reported the request for the loyalty pledge.
However, the discussion now appears to be largely moot because as the NYT reported overnight, Trump does not plan to invoke executive privilege as a way to block Comey from testifying to Congress next week, the New York Times said on Friday citing two unnamed senior administration officials.
One of the administration officials said Friday evening that Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Comey to testify because the president had nothing to hide and wanted Mr. Comey’s statements to be publicly aired. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a decision that had not been announced.
That said, the NYT concedes that Trump could still move to block the testimony next week, “given his history of changing his mind at the last minute about major decisions.” But legal experts have said that Mr. Trump has a weak case to invoke executive privilege because he has publicly addressed his conversations with Mr. Comey, and any such move could carry serious political risks.
As discussed previously, Comey is expected to testify about several conversations he had with the president, including one in which Mr. Trump encouraged him to stop investigating his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, according to a memo by Comey. In another conversation during a one-on-one dinner at the White House, Trump asked Mr. Comey to pledge his loyalty, and Comey declined to do so, according to Mr. Comey’s associates. Comey, according to people close to him, recorded his discussions with Mr. Trump in memos he wrote shortly after each interaction. The memo has yet to be seen either in public, or in private.