WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former FBI Director James Comey asked a federal judge on Thursday to quash a congressional subpoena from Republicans on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee who are trying to compel him to testify behind closed doors about his decision-making ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
The unusual filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia came after Comey had previously told Republican lawmakers he would agree to testify only if the hearing were open to the public.
“Mr. Comey asks this court’s intervention not to avoid giving testimony but to prevent the joint committee from using the pretext of a closed interview to peddle a distorted, partisan political narrative,” the filing said.
The Nov. 21 congressional subpoena ordering Comey to appear for a closed-door deposition on Dec. 3 was issued as part of an ongoing joint investigation by the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight Committee.
Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the judiciary panel, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Comey needed to appear before the committees.
“It appears Mr. Comey believes he deserves special treatment, as he is the only witness refusing to either appear voluntarily or comply with a subpoena,” Goodlatte added.
The House Judiciary Committee separately subpoenaed former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appear for a closed-door interview on Dec. 4.
The probe is looking at the FBI’s decisions related to its investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and its investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
The Republican-led inquiry has been lambasted by Democrats as a partisan effort to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which Trump has labeled a “witch hunt.”
Comey, who was fired by Trump last year, is seen as an important witness into whether Trump tried to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.
Republicans have alleged the FBI 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 that disparaged Trump exchanged between two former FBI staffers who worked on the email probe.
They have also claimed that the FBI made missteps when it applied for a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
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.
In the court filing, Comey’s lawyer said Republicans have pushed a “corrosive narrative” by saying that Clinton committed “serious crimes and was given unwarranted leniency by an FBI and DOJ that were loyal to her and her party.”
Neither of the Republican lawmakers overseeing the congressional investigation - Goodlatte and Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy - ran for re-election, and they will be leaving Congress at the end of the year.
The probe is expected to conclude in January, when Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives and win the power to issue subpoenas of their own.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall