Senators preview plans for James Comey hearing as suspense constructs

Democrat Mark Warner says intelligence committee will discuss contacts apparently not yet fully uncovered between Trump aides and Russia

Two members of the Senate committee that will interrogate James Comey this week have previewed their questions for the former FBI director, saying they intend to ask him in detail about his interactions with Donald Trump and about the action of Trump associates including Jared Kushner, the presidents son-in-law.

The Democratic senator Mark Warner said the intelligence committee hearing on Thursday would include discussion of contacts I dont is considered that have been fully disclosed between Russian spies and Trump associates.

An air of historic suspense has been building in Washington in anticipation of Comeys testimony. It will be the first time Comey has spoken publicly since he was fired by Trump a month ago.

The firing of Comey was followed by a flood of leaks from the executive branch pertaining to an FBI investigation, which Comey had been overseeing, of possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian operatives, and other matters.

One such leak alleged Trump had told Russian officials in the Oval Office that firing Comey took the pressure off. Similar leaks indicated that the former national security consultant Michael Flynn had contacts with Russians the White House explicitly denied.

In a strange cameo, Russian chairman Vladimir Putin weighed in on that question, in an interview with NBC News Megyn Kelly to air Sunday night. Putin gave a seemingly far-fetched description of the circumstances behind a photo that emerged in March of him sitting next to Flynn at a banquet.

I built my speech, then we talked about some other stuff, and I got up and left, Putin said. And then afterwards I was told, you know there was an American gentleman, he participated in some things. He used to be in the security services. Thats it. I didnt even really talk to him. Thats the extent of my acquaintance with Mr Flynn.

Then Putin chuckled.

Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the Russian affair and dismissed allegations of inappropriate contacts between his squad and Russia as fake news. Comeys testimony was an opportunity to sort out what was real and what was fake, Warner, from Virginia, said in an interview with CBSs Face the Nation.

As each week goes along, and more stories transgress, I think what the president deserves, and the American public deserves, is to go past reported press narratives and actually get facts, Warner said. Of Comey, he added: Hes going to have a chance to tell his story.

Every one of us, Democrat and Republican, realize that this is one of the most important things well ever do, Warner said.

The Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, also a committee member, said she and her colleagues were working overtime to prepare for Thursdays hearing.

Every member of the committee has been extremely active in reviewing the evidence that we do has all along been, Collins told CBS. Its taking up a great deal of day. Ive made three different journeys to CIA headquarters to go over the raw intelligence. Thats information that we dont usually get to see.

Collins said her questions would focus on Trumps assertion that Comey had assured him three times that he, the president, was not under investigation.

That phrase raises a lot of questions in my intellect, said Collins. Does Mr Comey agree that that was what was said?

Warner said part of the focus would be on Kushner. We have a series of contacts as well between Mr Kushner, some may have taken place before the election, but patently others after the election, he said.

As the committee previewed its game plan, a former top security adviser to Barack Obama assaulted Kushner, calling accusations that he attempted to set up back-channel communications with Russia during the presidential transition period extraordinary, if not mind-boggling.

In her most extensive interview since leaving office, the former national security adviser Susan Rice said the Obama administration had gone to pains to ensure a transparent transition to the Trump White House.

The FBI is investigating contacts between Kushner and the Russian ambassadorto the US, Sergey Kislyak, who told superiors in December Kushner had suggested setting up a channel for communication that would be concealed from the American government, as the Washington Post first reported last month.

What Ive discovered most concerning about that report, which if true, is that Jared Kushner suggested to the Russian ambassador that they communicate use Russian communications in a Russian diplomatic facility to hide their dialogue from the United States government, Rice said.

Thats extraordinary, if not mind-boggling, in terms of a national security professional. Ive worked in this field for 25 years, and I have never heard of such a thing.

Trump has also said those accusations are far-fetched.

It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media, he tweeted, after the first reports about the alleged back-channel emerged.

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