The White House faces a dilemma over whether to try to block former FBI Director James Comey’s highly anticipated testimony before Congress next week about his conversations with President Trump.
By scheduling a hearing next Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee is forcing Trump to decide if he wants to invoke executive privilege in an attempt to stop his fired FBI chief from speaking.
Comey is expected to be asked about a number of his private conversations with Trump, including one in which the president reportedly asked him to ease off an investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn and another in which Trump allegedly asked for the law enforcement official’s loyalty.
The former FBI director is said to have kept detailed notes about his talks with Trump and revealing their contents could prove damaging to the president.
The White House on Friday refused to rule out the possibility of Trump invoking his presidential powers to block Comey’s testimony.
“I have not spoken to counsel yet, I don’t know how they’re going to respond,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.
In an interview earlier Friday with ABC News, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway indicated the president would allow the former FBI director to appear, saying, “We’ll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies.”
“It’s more important to have somebody testify under oath, frankly, than to have his friends and his former colleagues out there speaking to the media not under oath,” Conway said on “Good Morning America.”
But when pressed if Trump would invoke executive privilege, Conway said, “The president will make that decision.”
Trump ignored shouted questions from reporters at the White House about whether he would try to block Comey’s testimony.
Legal experts say Trump can attempt to claim privilege, but warn that such a move could spark major backlash and would be unlikely to succeed.
Executive privilege is a legal concept that allows presidents to withhold certain information from Congress or other government offices in the name of national security or protecting his right to have sensitive, private conversations with administration officials.
But experts say that any assertion of privilege Trump makes on the grounds of national security or confidentiality would be undermined by the fact that Trump has spoken publicly spoken – in interviews, tweets and in front of reporters – about his talks with Comey.
“He could certainly argue that those conversations are covered by executive privilege,” said Jack Quinn, a longtime Washington lobbyist and White House counsel to former President Bill Clinton.
“The response from the Hill would be along the lines that he waived that privilege or it never existed because he communicated in such detail about it in public ways,” Quinn said.
SOURCE: JORDAN FABIAN