Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by U.S. President Donald Trump last week amid an agency probe into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has agreed to testify before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee at a public hearing, the committee said in a statement on Friday.
The hearing will be scheduled after the May 29 Memorial Day holiday, the statement said.
The news comes after Trump was hit by embarrassing leaks suggesting that a senior adviser was a “person of interest” in a probe of possible collusion with Russia during last year’s election campaign, and that Trump had boasted to Russian officials of firing the man heading the investigation.
The reports, emerging just as Trump jetted off to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as president, were likely to extend the turmoil engulfing his administration since the May 9 firing of Comey.
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The Washington Post, citing sources familiar with the matter, did not identify the senior Trump adviser ,except to say that the person of interest was close to Trump.
U.S. law enforcement uses the term “a person of interest” to mean someone who is part of a criminal investigation but not arrested or formally accused of a crime. The person may be cooperating or have information of use to investigators.
“As the president has stated before – a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement in response to the Post report.
Separately the New York Times reported that Trump boasted to Russian officials at a White House meeting last week that firing Comey relieved “great pressure” the president faced from a law-enforcement probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey, who was in charge of the Russia election probe.
The Times report added to the impression, given by Trump himself in a television interview last week, that the Russia issue was a factor in firing Comey. The White House has given different versions of the reasons for the dismissal.
“I am hopeful that [Comey] will clarify for the American people recent events that have been broadly reported in the media,” U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Richard Burr, said in a statement.
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Public approval of Trump has dropped to its lowest level since his inauguration, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday. The May 14-18 opinion poll found that 38 per cent of adults approved of Trump while 56 per cent disapproved. The remaining 6 per cent had “mixed feelings.”
U.S. stocks immediately pared gains after the reports but still closed higher for a second straight day.
Earlier this week, investors dumped stocks in response to reports that Trump in February had asked Comey to stop investigating his former national security adviser, prompting accusations the president may have tried to hamper the probe.
After days of political tumult in Washington, the Justice Department announced the appointment on Thursday of a special counsel to look into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.