Less than 48 hours before former FBI Director James Comey’s testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and detailed a January dinner during which he claims President Trump asked him to pledge personal loyalty, two Republican members of committee dined with Trump at the White House.
Those members — Marco Rubio (FL) and Tom Cotton (AL) — then spent Thursday’s hearing trying to exonerate Trump of wrongdoing.
Rubio concluded his questioning time by suggesting the things Trump asked of his FBI director — including a personal loyalty pledge, a request to quash an investigation into one of his closest associates, and multiple requests to publicly exonerate him— were actually reasonable.
He then turned to a topic the Trump administration has tried to get the public to focus on instead of possible collusion with Russia — leaks.
“You know, this investigation is full of leaks, left and right,” Rubio said. “Do you ever wonder why of all the things in this investigation the only thing that’s never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in the leadership of Congress knew that and have known that for weeks?”
“I don’t know,” Comey replied.
Earlier in the hearing, Comey indicated that while he told Trump on numerous occasions he wasn’t personally under investigation, that’s no longer the case. He suggested Trump’s possible obstruction of justice is part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
Cotton, for his part, used part of his questioning time to focus on comments Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) made during separate CNN appearances last month about not having seen evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. (Feinstein made those comments before former CIA Director John Brennan testified on May 23 that he’s personally aware of “information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals.”)
Feinstein’s comments have been airing repeatedly on Hannity and other Fox News programs favored by the President.
After reading quotes from Feinstein, Cotton asked Comey, “Do you have any reason to doubt those statements?”
“I don’t doubt that Sen. Feinstein was saying what she understood,” Comey replied.
Cotton also made an unsuccessful attempt to get the former FBI director to say he doesn’t believe Trump colluded with Russia, and questioned why Comey didn’t offer his resignation if he had a problem with the way Trump conducted himself as president.
Rubio and Cotton were among six Republicans who dined with Trump on Tuesday. Earlier that day, Trump had a White House meeting with a group of Republicans that included Senate Intelligence Commitee member John Cornyn (R-TX). Cornyn used his questioning time on Thursday to revisit one of his favorite topics: Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
In fairness, Republicans who weren’t at the White House on Tuesday also ran interference for Trump. In what was perhaps the most baffling exchange during Thursday’s hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked a series of questions that made absolutely no sense and went on to suggest that Comey somehow treated Trump unfairly. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) attempted to defend the president during a news conference by making a case that Trump is “new at this.”
“He’s new to government,” Ryan said. “And so he probably wasn’t steeped into the long going protocols that established the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses.”