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Manchin calls Comey allegations ‘extremely troubling’

By JAKE ZUCKERMAN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called a recently fired FBI director’s allegation that President Donald Trump asked him to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser “extremely troubling.”

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., from left, Angus King, I-Maine and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., question former FBI director James Comey as he testifies Thursday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
(AP photo)

Manchin, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to comment on whether he considers the actions to be an obstruction of justice. However, he said former FBI director James Comey’s statement Thursday that Trump had said he hoped Comey could “let this go” after asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior adviser Jared Kushner to leave the room is concerning.

“That’s extremely troubling, totally inappropriate, just very troubling that something like that would be done,” Manchin said. “It’s obvious that there was something that he wanted to ask or talk about or speak about that he wanted nobody involved in. To ask the attorney general, the head law enforcement agent over everybody, to leave, and ask a person who works under him to stay, that’s a concern for everybody.”

Comey went on to assert that White House officials lied and attempted to defame him in their explanation of his firing.

The White House pushed back against Comey’s testimony. In a statement, Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal lawyer, denied any conversation took place about dropping the Flynn investigation.

“The president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including suggesting that Mr. Comey ‘let Flynn go,’ ” he said.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also denied the claim, saying “the president is not a liar.”

When asked if he feels the American public can believe Trump is telling the truth when he speaks, Manchin largely avoided answering the question. However, he said the president has credibility issues in the wake of the numerous investigations surrounding his campaign and alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“There is a cloud right now, I’ll be the first to say it, and that cloud needs to be cleared up,” he said.

Manchin declined to answer the original question outright.

In a statement emailed to reporters, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., knocked committee members as grandstanding and stopped just short of calling Comey a liar.

“This investigation needs to be led by the facts, not politicians more focused on grabbing headlines and soundbites,” he said. “James Comey had clearly lost the trust of people in both parties, as well as that of the president himself.”

In a statement made to WSAZ, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., called Comey’s allegations “troubling,” although not “explosive.”

One key piece of the story that emerged in Comey’s testimony is his admission that he organized the leak of memos containing his recollections of Trump’s request he let go of the Flynn investigation. Comey said he did so after Trump tweeted a vague hint that he might have taped the conversations, and as a kickstarter to the appointment of a special prosecutor on the matter.

Manchin boiled down the action to raw self-preservation.

“I think there was self-preservation going on by the FBI director, trying to preserve himself when he’s getting beat up directly from the Twitter comments by the president,” Manchin said. “[Comey] clarified that’s why he documented everything from day one. It’s unusual and it’s disheartening for that person to feel that from the first time they hear from a new administration.”

In his testimony, Comey said he took detailed notes of all his conversations with Trump over concern that Trump might lie or distort what was said or done.

After the public hearing, the committee reconvened in private for Comey to answer questions he said he could not answer publicly, such as questions regarding the numerous investigations into how much sway Russia had — or has — over U.S. politics.

Although Manchin declined to go into specifics, citing security clearance concerns, he said Comey answered all the questions in private that he could not answer at the public hearing.

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