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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Fired FBI Director James Comey is willing to testify before Congress on the condition that he is able to do so in public, the New York Times reported Friday.

Comey declined an invitation from the Senate Intelligence Committee to be interviewed in a closed-door hearing next Tuesday, according to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the ranking Democrat on that panel.

But a “close associate” of Comey’s told the Times he is willing to speak as long as he can do so in an open hearing.

President Donald Trump abruptly fired the FBI director, who was leading the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives, earlier this week.

Comey’s dismissal sent shockwaves through Washington, D.C., with lawmakers questioning the timing of Trump’s decision and the rapidly changing explanations for why it happened.

The White House first attributed Comey’s dismissal to a memo by the deputy attorney general criticizing his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, before Trump told NBC News that he decided to make this move on his own. The President also said he thought the Russia probe was without merit, and that it factored into his decision to oust Comey.

Fired FBI Director James Comey turned down an invitation to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee next week, according to that panel’s leading Democrat.

Asked on MSNBC Friday afternoon if he believed it was “critical” to speak to Comey, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) affirmed that it was, but said “he won’t be testifying on Tuesday” as he was invited to do.

“I have enormous respect for Jim Comey and I believe at the appropriate time and place, he will tell his side of the story,” Warner continued. “And my hope is that will be in front of our committee.”

Trump unceremoniously fired Comey late Tuesday afternoon. His administration first cited a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was sharply critical of Comey’s controversial handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, before Trump revealed that he made the decision to fire Comey unilaterally.

The FBI and House and Senate Intelligence Committees are all conducting investigations into Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, including possible collusion between Russian operatives and Trump campaign officials.

Two senior Democratic lawmakers on Friday asked the White House to turn over any recordings or other materials related to President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, alleging that the President’s actions raised the possibility of “obstruction of justice.”

“Under Section 1512 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, it is a crime to intimidate or threaten any potential witness with the intent to influence, delay, or prevent their official testimony,” Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn.

“The President’s actions this morning—as well as his admission yesterday on national television that he fired Director Comey because he was investigating Trump campaign officials and their connections to the Russian government—raise the specter of possible intimidation and obstruction of justice,” the lawmakers continued.

Trump tweeted on Friday that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations” if he intends to speak to the press.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly declined to address the tweet during his daily press briefing, saying there was “nothing further to add on that.”

He did not confirm or deny whether the President had set up recording devices in the Oval Office or elsewhere in the White House.

Conyers and Cummings said that Comey should be allowed to give his account in public testimony, and to receive copies of any recorded conversations between Trump and the former FBI director if they exist.

“We also request all documents, memoranda, analyses, emails, and other communications relating to the President’s decision to dismiss Director Comey,” they added.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also released a statement on Friday calling for the “immediate” release of any such secret recordings.

Read the full letter from Conyers and Cummings below.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday brushed off questions about the deluge of shifting, contradictory explanations the Trump administration offered this week for the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey, saying the decision had always rested with the President.

“Why were the American people given incorrect information that night?” Time reporter Zeke Miller asked in the daily briefing, noting that the Trump administration attributed the firing to a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein days before President Donald Trump told NBC News he’d made the decision unilaterally.

“I don’t necessarily believe that that’s true, Zeke,” Spicer insisted. “There was a decision-making process. The President explained it in the interview process. The bottom line is that the director of the FBI serves the President. The President made a decision to replace him, as he has stated very clearly now publicly.”

Another reporter pressed Spicer to explain the “discrepancy” in the statements coming out of the White House about who prompted the decision.

“It’s always the President’s decision. That’s it, final,” Spicer said. “As I mentioned to Zeke, this is always going to be the President’s decision. Everybody who serves for the President, it’s always going to be his decision to hire someone or fire someone.”

Spicer’s replies overlooked that White House communications staff first told reporters that Rosenstein’s memo, which criticized Comey’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, was the impetus for the firing. The administration then said Trump had mulled ousting Comey ever since he won the November election.

And on Thursday night, Trump himself told NBC News that he was thinking about the FBI’s ongoing investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russian officials to influence election when he decided to move forward with firing Comey.

If President Donald Trump really recorded his private conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey, he should turn the recordings over “immediately,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) demanded Friday.

“For a President who baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping him, that Mr. Trump would suggest that he, himself, may have engaged in such conduct is staggering,” Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, wrote in a blistering statement. “The President should immediately provide any such recordings to Congress or admit, once again, to have made a deliberately misleading—and in this case threatening—statement.”

Trump on Friday sent a tweet saying Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’” of their conversations after multiple outlets published stories about a private dinner at the White House the two shared in January. Comey’s associates said that Trump asked the FBI director to pledge loyalty to him during that meal, while Trump said Comey, who was four years into a 10-year term as head of the FBI, asked him to keep his job.

Schiff’s statement refers to Trump’s baseless early March claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the campaign—an assertion that Comey refused to back up.

Schiff went on to criticize Trump’s tweeted threats to stop holding press briefings altogether because, the President said, his staff can’t always be expected to communicate information with “perfect accuracy.”

“It is difficult to know how to respond,” Schiff wrote, “Except to say, being truthful with the American people is a core responsibility of the job.”

“If he did not want to willingly undertake even the minimal requirements of the Presidency, it would have been far better for him to have considered that before he chose to run for the highest office in the land,” he continued.

Former director of national intelligence James Clapper said Friday that he did not “know if there was collusion or not” between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives working to influence the U.S. presidential election, saying he was not privy to the details of the FBI’s investigation.

Clapper spoke with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell after Trump seized on Senate testimony the former DNI gave earlier this week to dismiss the entire Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” and clear his campaign’s name.

“It is not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation,” Clapper explained, saying his practice during his six-and-a-half years in his role was to defer to FBI officials about what information he needed to know about counterintelligence investigations.

“So I don’t know if there was collusion or not,” he continued. “I don’t know if there was evidence of collusion or not, nor should I have in this particular context.”

In a Monday hearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Clapper if he believed it was “still accurate” that the intelligence community had found no evidence of collusion between Trump campaign staffers and Russian officials.

“It is,” Clapper testified.

Asked the same question, former acting attorney general Sally Yates said she could not respond without revealing classified information, noting that Clapper said he’d been “unaware of the FBI counterintelligence investigations.”

Trump seized on Clapper’s testimony later that day, leaving out the context that Clapper hadn’t been privy to the FBI investigation to begin with.

“Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is “no evidence” of collusion w/ Russia and Trump,” he wrote on Twitter.

The President went so far as to temporarily include that tweet in the header of his personal Twitter profile.

In another tweet on Friday morning, Trump again pointed to Clapper’s testimony to call for an end to the Russia investigation.

President Donald Trump asked James Comey to pledge loyalty to him during a one-on-one dinner days after his January inauguration, multiple sources close to the ousted FBI director told both the New York Times and NBC News.

Comey, who, according to the Times report, reluctantly accepted the dinner invitation at the White House, told the President instead that he’d provide him with “honesty” and declined to answer questions about the bureau’s ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to influence the 2016 election.

This account, which was backed up by unnamed current and former FBI officials who spoke to NBC News, differs wildly from the account Trump provided in his own conversation Thursday with the network’s star anchor, Lester Holt.

Trump told Holt that Comey requested the dinner and asked the President to keep him in his post as FBI director. He also reiterated, as he wrote in his letter dismissing the FBI Director on Tuesday, that Comey told him three times he was not personally under investigation as part of the Russia probe.

An unnamed former senior FBI official told NBC News that Comey would never have said such a thing to the President, as it is a breach of protocol to comment on ongoing investigations.

“He tried to stay away from it,” the former official told NBC. “He would say, ‘look sir, I really can’t get into it, and you don’t want me to.'”

The White House disagreed with these characterizations of the dinner, telling the Times that those accounts were not accurate.

“The integrity of our law enforcement agencies and their leadership is of the utmost importance to President Trump,” Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the newspaper. “He would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people.”

President Donald Trump’s thumbs were working overtime Friday morning, as he fired off a string of remarkable tweets threatening to cancel future press briefings and again accusing Democrats of fabricating a story that members of his campaign colluded with Russian operatives to sway the 2016 election.

“Again, the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election,” Trump wrote in the first early morning message.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia intervened in the presidential race to help Trump win, and the FBI and two bipartisan congressional committees are investigating whether any of his aides colluded with Russia to do so.

After accusing the “Fake Media” of “working overtime today,” Trump then pivoted to the 180-degree turn in the White House’s official explanation for his sudden decision to fire FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday. The President suggested it might be a good pretext to cancel all future press briefings.

“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Trump wrote.

“Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy??” he continued.

The Trump administration press team, and the President’s initial note about Comey’s firing, pinned the decision on a memorandum written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Trump threw that explanation out the window Thursday during an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, when he said, “I was going to fire him regardless of recommendations.”

“James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote in his next Twitter message.

He then referred to the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” and capped his seven-post tweetstorm with an unrelated post about China agreeing to allow the U.S. to “sell beef, and other major products” in its market again.

Some Democratic lawmakers and legal observers suggested Tuesday that President Donald Trump may have abused his office in abruptly firing FBI Director James Comey, who was in the midst of investigating potential collusion between members of Trump’s inner circle and Russian operatives interfering in the U.S. election.

Yet Comey’s dismissal was prompted by a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a career Justice Department attorney with a straight-and-narrow reputation.

Trump wrote to Comey that he concurred “with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” citing letters from both Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions’ letter was just one paragraph long. Rosenstein, who was only confirmed on April 25, put forth a three-page, in-depth memorandum detailing the “substantial damage” he said Comey did to the FBI’s “reputation and credibility” with his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

This was the bulk of Rosenstein’s case—a surprising one for the Trump administration to make, given the President’s past praise for Comey airing details of the Clinton email server probe in public press conferences on July 5 and Oct. 28.

“The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong,” Rosenstein wrote. “As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”

The New York Times and CNN reported that senior officials at the White House and DOJ had been instructed to spend the last week finding a reason to terminate Comey. But Rosenstein’s background as a longtime, deeply respected federal prosecutor offers some cover to the Trump administration. He has worked in high-level posts in the administrations of former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, most recently serving as the U.S. attorney for Maryland.

First nominated in January, Rosenstein was confirmed by the Senate only two weeks ago in a 94-6 vote.

Because Sessions’ close ties to the Trump campaign forced him to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s election meddling, Rosenstein will handle all Russia-related (or Trump campaign-related) matters in his role.

He was criticized by Democrats during his confirmation hearings for refusing to commit to appointing a special prosecutor to lead an independent investigation on Russia, saying he first needed to learn “the information that they know.”

A number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said Tuesday that Comey’s firing made an independent probe all the more urgent.

“The American people’s trust in our criminal justice system is in Rosenstein’s hands,” Schumer said in a solemn public statement. “Mr. Rosenstein, America depends on you to restore faith in our criminal justice system, which is going to be badly shattered after the administration’s actions today.”

“This investigation must be run as far away as possible from this White House,” Schumer added.

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