December 1, 2018 / 1:00 AM / 9 days ago

U.S. judge delays ruling on ex-FBI director's request to quash Republican subpoena

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday delayed a decision on whether to block U.S. House Republicans from compelling former FBI Director James Comey to testify next week in secret about his actions on investigations leading up to the 2016 presidential elections.

FBI Director James Comey arrives for a House Judiciary hearing on "The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans' Security and Privacy" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Donald Trump, said he wanted to review the case over the weekend before making a ruling and scheduled a follow-up hearing for Monday at 10 a.m.

He also told Comey’s attorney, David Kelley, to submit a follow-up brief to help inform his opinion by Sunday afternoon.

Friday’s hearing came about after Comey’s lawyers this week asked the court to quash a Nov. 21 congressional subpoena ordering him to appear before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for a closed-door deposition and stay the congressional proceedings.

Comey’s lawyer argued his client will only agree to appear if his testimony is public, and on Friday Kelley accused the committee of trying to keep the testimony secret so lawmakers could selectively leak it to peddle partisan narratives.

“They want to have unfettered access in a closed session,” Kelley said Friday. “They don’t want all the other members asking questions. They want to zero in and gang up.”

Republicans had initially ordered Comey to appear on Monday, but Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for the House, said Friday that Comey’s deposition is now being pushed back to Tuesday.

Comey has been tussling with Republicans on the House Judiciary and House Oversight committees, which are jointly investigating the FBI’s decisions on inquiries into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and whether Trump’s election campaign coordinated with Russia.

Republicans also separately sent a subpoena to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking her to come for a private deposition on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Lynch declined to comment.

The Republican-led inquiry has been lambasted by Democrats as a partisan effort to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Moscow denies meddling and Trump denies campaign collusion, calling the Mueller investigation a political witch hunt.

Comey, who was fired by Trump in May 2017, is seen as an important witness into whether Trump tried to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.

Republicans have said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is biased against Trump, pointing to Comey’s decision to publicly announce the FBI would not bring charges against Clinton, as well as text messages between two former FBI staffers on the email probe that disparaged Trump.

They have also claimed that the FBI made missteps when it applied for a warrant to place former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page under surveillance.

A Justice Department inspector general report issued earlier this year criticized Comey for his handling of the Clinton matter, but said he did not exhibit political bias.

Additional reporting by Makini Brice

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