Because President Donald Trump has again pulled the rug out from under them, House Republicans face Mission Impossible on Friday when they try to hold ex-FBI Director James Comey accountable for his highly dubious authorization of surveillance on erstwhile Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Comey let go his unprecedented legal maneuver to have a court quash a subpoena for him to appear behind closed doors before the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee before the Democrats take over the committee in January. The current committee chair, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), decried Comey's use of "baseless litigation" in an "attempt to run out the clock on this Congress."
The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); so the still secret FISA application "justifying" surveillance of Page is almost sure to come up.
Comey had wanted a public hearing so he could pull the ruse of refusing to respond because his answers would be classified. He has now agreed to a closed-door meeting on Friday, with a transcript, likely to be redacted, to appear soon after.
In an interview with The New York Post last Wednesday, Trump acknowledged that he could declassify Comey's damning Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant request to show how devastating those pages likely are, but said he would not do so "until they were needed," namely, if a Democratic House starts going after him. "If they go down the presidential harassment track, if they want go and harass the president and the administration, I think that would be the best thing that would happen to me. I'm a counter-puncher and I will hit them so hard they'd never been hit like that," Trump told the paper. He added: "It's much more powerful if I do it then, because if we had done it already, it would already be yesterday's news."
But they are needed before Comey's hearing on Friday. Barely a week will remain before Congress adjourns. Four weeks later Democrats take over the oversight committees.
Cowardice Deja Vu
This is not the first time Trump has flinched. On September 17 he ordered"immediate declassification" of Russia-gate documents, including FISA-related material. Four days later he backed down, explaining that he would leave it to the Justice Department's inspector general to review the material, rather than release it publicly.