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Comey testifies before House panel behind closed doors

Last Updated Dec 7, 2018 5:47 PM EST

An attorney with the Justice Department told members of the House Judiciary Committee that fired former FBI Director James Comey would not answer some questions in a closed-door session on Friday, and Comey followed that guidance, frustrating House Republicans.

Republicans grilled him on his agency’s actions during the 2016 campaign, and a DOJ lawyer, according to Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, instructed Comey not to respond to some questions. Comey didn’t discuss which questions he declined to answer, pointing to a transcript of the testimony expected to be publicly released later. Comey said he would be returning to testify in a couple weeks, on Dec. 17, and that it would likely again be closed testimony.

“When you read the transcript, you will see that we’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sake. I’m not sure we need to do this at all, but I’m trying to respect the institution,” Comey said about his testimony on Friday.

Issa told reporters that Comey had two lawyers present and one of them was from the Justice Department. The DOJ lawyer has “repeatedly” instructed the members that Comey would not be answering certain questions, according to a clearly-frustrated Issa. The congressman said Comey welcomes this DOJ defense with “gleeful acceptance.” Issa said the members present agreed not to put out the rationale for these DOJ limitations but said he “does not accept the rationale.”

The committee had subpoenaed Comey, and he initially went to court to fight it. He decided to comply after the committee agreed to give him a full transcript of that testimony within 24 hours, which he is free to make public. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said he expects the full transcript to be released Saturday.

Comey’s last appearance before lawmakers was 18 months ago, at a public hearing in June 2017. The hearing Friday represented an effort by House Republicans allied with President Trump to pin him down on issues important to them before Democrats take control of the majority in January.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who will head the House Oversight committee in the next Congress, told CBS News it is “hard to say” if his committee will continue to look into the fired director’s actions in 2016. Cummings also promised to “spend the taxpayer’s dollars” in an “appropriate” way.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said he will end this investigation — which is officially supposed to be examining DOJ and FBI actions in the lead-up to the 2016 elections — when he takes over the committee chairmanship in January.  He called it “a waste of time to start with” and said the “entire purpose of this investigation is to cast aspersions on the real investigation which is Mueller. There is no evidence whatsoever of bias at the FBI or any other of this nonsense they are talking about.”

-CBS News’ Bo Erickson and Rebecca Kaplan contributed reporting from Capitol Hill.

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