House Republicans are set to interview former FBI Director James Comey behind closed doors Friday, the last time before they cede power to Democrats in January.
The committee subpoenaed Comey last month to testify about investigations into the Donald Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia and Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Comey resisted, arguing the GOP-led investigation in the decision-making by the FBI and the Justice Department in 2016 and 2017 was politically motivated.
Call for public setting
He said in a Thanksgiving Day tweet that he may not appear if the interview is not conducted in a public setting.
“I’m still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions. But I will resist a ‘closed door’ thing because I’ve seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion.” Comey added: “Let’s have a hearing and invite everyone to see.”
But Comey relented to the closed-door interview after gaining a promise that a transcript of the session would be released to the public after 24 hours.
Republican lawmakers maintain that anti-Trump bias among senior officials resulted in the FBI focusing more on its probe into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia and less on its investigation into Democratic candidate Clinton’s private email server.
Trump has repeatedly called the Russia probe a “witch hunt” and has accused Comey and his close colleagues of being corrupt.
It a series of tweets early Friday, the president blasted Comey and the Mueller probe into Russia’s hacking of the 2016 U.S. national election.
Democrats complain Republicans are simply trying to fuel a conspiracy theory to protect Trump from the ongoing Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Democrats say they will scrutinize Trump’s attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department when they assume control of the House in January. They have also urged their Republican counterparts to shield Mueller from any attempts by Trump or his newly-appointed acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, to impede the investigation. (VOA)
The United States said Saturday it welcomes actions Pakistan is taking to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The acknowledgement came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban scheduled for Monday.
“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.
U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.
Neither Khan nor the U.S. spokesperson have disclosed the possible venue for the upcoming meeting with Taliban officials.
Some Afghan sources say Monday’s meeting will take place in Islamabad, but no official confirmation is available.
Khalilzad, who is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks, is to lead the U.S. delegation in talks with insurgent representatives. This will not be the first time Khalilzad has met with the Taliban.
Since taking office in September, the special U.S. envoy has held two publicly known rounds of preliminary discussions with insurgent negotiators in Qatar, where the Taliban runs its so-called political office. The talks have been for the sake of talks, according to insurgent and other sources aware of the meetings.
Trump’s letter to Khan
U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote a formal letter to Khan asking for his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met with Khan and his military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on Trump’s request, Pakistani officials say.
Speaking in northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, Khan said the U.S. has changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. officials have previously insisted.
“By the grace of Allah, the dialogue is now happening inshallah [God willing] on the 17th [Khan did not mention the month] and Pakistan has facilitated the talks between America and the Taliban,” Khan said. He did not share further details.
Khan recounted Friday that critics used to mock him as “Taliban Khan” for saying the Afghan war could not be ended without political negotiations but now all key stakeholders are jointly working to pursue a political settlement to end the violence in Afghanistan.
“If peace were achieved, God willing, Peshawar will change and become a hub of commerce and tourism, as things around the 2,500 years old living city are likely to change,” Khan said Friday.
Ambassador Khalilzad is 13 days into an 18-day visit to the region. He has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the U.A.E. and Qatar.
Withdrawal an issue
Pakistani officials privy to the U.S. interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.
U.S. officials have long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.
Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces. (VOA)