Ex-FBI head Comey drops challenge to U.S. House panel subpoena

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former FBI Director James Comey on Sunday withdrew a legal challenge that sought to quash a congressional subpoena compelling him to testify in secret about the bureau’s decisions on investigations ahead of the 2016 presidential election, his lawyer said.

Comey agreed to sit down for a closed-door deposition on Friday. Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee pledged to provide Comey with a full transcript within 24 hours of his testimony, and he will be permitted to “make any or all of that transcript public,” Comey’s lawyer David Kelley told Reuters in a statement.

Comey and the Republican lawmakers reached the new agreement the day before lawyers were to appear at a court hearing. A judge had been set to issue a ruling on Comey’s request to quash the subpoena and halt congressional proceedings – a request that has never previously been granted by a judge in the United States.

At the heart of the case is whether the panel should be able to force Comey to testify in secret about the FBI’s investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and 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 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.

Kelley argued in court on Friday that Republicans are violating U.S. House rules by not holding a public hearing where all committee members can ask questions. Kelley accused lawmakers of pushing for a closed hearing so they can selectively leak portions of Comey’s testimony to undermine Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.

But Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for the U.S. House of Representatives, said a 1975 Supreme Court case known as Eastland v. U.S. Servicemen’s Fund made it clear that the Speech or Debate Clause in the U.S. Constitution provides for complete immunity for the issuance of such subpoenas.

That pivotal case was not cited in the legal briefs submitted by Comey’s attorney, prompting him to ask the judge for an opportunity to respond on Sunday.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Grant McCool)

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