Cautious Comey expected in U.S. hearing on Trump-Russia probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former FBI chief James Comey will likely hold back from accusing President Donald Trump of trying to interfere with an investigation into links between Trump’s election campaign team and Russian officials when he testifies in Congress this week, legal sources said.

FILE PHOTO: Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Comey’s highly anticipated appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday could be a turning point in a controversy that has rocked Trump’s young administration.

In his first public remarks since Trump fired him last month, Comey is expected to tell the Senate Intelligence committee that Trump asked him during a meeting in the Oval Office to end the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into ties between former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia.

Comey may also detail other conversations with Trump.

Two legal experts said Comey would seek to avoid compromising a new inquiry led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller or separate congressional investigations.

“I would expect him to hew pretty closely to facts and events,” said Jack Sharman, a partner at Lightfoot, Franklin and White and former special counsel to a congressional committee that investigated President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Another source, who asked not to be named, said Comey does not see it as his role to charge the president or anyone else with obstruction of justice or any other crime.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a report declassified in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, but to affect the election’s outcome.

Comey told the House of Representatives intelligence committee on March 20 that the FBI was probing Moscow’s role in the election, including possible Trump campaign collusion.

Trump fired Comey on May 9, a step that stunned Washington and intensified scrutiny of the matter.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, was fired in February. The White House said he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about contacts Flynn had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, before Trump took office.

Federal prosecutors last month issued grand jury subpoenas seeking business records from people who worked with Flynn when he was a private citizen.

The Senate intelligence panel also issued its first subpoena in its Russia investigation, demanding documents from Flynn. The first roughly 600 pages of those documents were delivered on Tuesday.

Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Toni Reinholdd