Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn-in Wednesday, May 3, 2017, prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Comey returns to Capitol Hill in Washington on June 8 to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)
AP

Maine’s two senators will find themselves in the spotlight next week when former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate panel each of them serve on.

Billed as “one of the most highly anticipated events on Capitol Hill in years” by Politico, the former top cop’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee will focus on Russian interference in last year’s presidential election and President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Comey last month.

The hearing may turn out to be a pivotal moment in the unfolding story. But whether the testimony proves dull or explosive, the publicity surrounding it will focus national attention on lawmakers as well as Comey.

Maine and California are the only states to have both of their senators on the 15-member committee that normally conducts most of its business behind closed doors.

Both U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, have expressed confidence in the panel’s ability to get to the bottom of what happened during the election.

Comey plans to testify in public before the committee Thursday morning, followed by a secret session in the afternoon when he can discuss classified information with the senators.

The testimony from Comey will be the first time since his firing. It is not clear whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s now heading the investigation into Russian ties to the Trump campaign, has put any limits on what Comey can talk about.

But the question that’s been swirling ever since Comey’s departure is whether or not the president sought to obstruct justice by removing the man in charge of the FBI’s probe.

After Comey’s departure, Collins declared her confidence that the FBI would continue its probe and that the Senate committee would “continue its own bipartisan investigation” that would “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”
She also praised Comey for his “integrity, intelligence and determination.”

At the same time, King called the firing “troubling” and mentioned that it “raises more questions than it answers.”

He also said that he expected the Senate committee “to continue to proceed in a nonpartisan manner and follow the facts wherever they lead.”

In a typical hearing, senators are given a chance to ask questions so Collins and King are likely to have the opportunity to quiz Comey directly.

The most eagerly anticipated testimony will focus on what Trump said to Comey during private meetings with the president. Trump has said he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.

The president has called the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election a “hoax,” “a witch hunt,” and other dismissive terms.

But the FBI, the Senate and House intelligence panel and others are nonetheless exploring whether Trump aides may have had improper ties to Russians. American intelligence agencies have repeatedly said that Russia was meddling in the campaign to try to boost Trump’s chances.

The hearing is slated to start at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 8, and will last two or three hours in public before reconvening in executive session in the afternoon.


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