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Trump will not try to block Comey from testifying, White House says

WASHINGTON — White House officials said Monday that President Trump will not invoke executive privilege to try to block James Comey, the FBI director he fired, from testifying before Congress this week.

The action clears the way for a hearing that may be the most anticipated in Washington in months, if not years.

Comey is scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday for his first public discussion of the events that led to his dismissal last month in the midst of leading an investigation into associates of Trump.

Lawmakers are especially interested in reports that Trump sought to persuade Comey to shut down an investigation into the president’s former national security adviser.


It was not clear that Trump would have succeeded in stopping Comey from testifying, had he chosen to cite executive privilege. The Supreme Court has found that presidents enjoy a right to confidentiality in communications with their advisers, but it is not an absolute privilege — and courts have overriden such claims in the past.

If Trump had tried to assert executive privilege and the Senate committee challenged him in court, Trump would have a weak case, legal experts said, because he has himself publicly discussed his private conversations with Comey.

“The president’s power to assert executive privilege is well established,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, told reporters. “However, in order to facilitate a swift and thorough examination of the facts sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump will not assert executive privilege regarding James Comey’s scheduled testimony.”

The president fired Comey on May 9 as the FBI was looking into contacts between Russia and Trump’s associates.

While Trump and his aides initially said he had acted at the recommendation of the deputy attorney general because of the way Comey handled last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, Trump later said he had already decided to fire the FBI director, regardless of any recommendations, and that he had the Russia investigation in mind.


In the weeks since, associates of Comey have said the former director felt uncomfortable about efforts by Trump to compromise the bureau’s traditional independence.

Just days after Trump’s inauguration, he invited the director to dinner and, according to people familiar with Comey’s account, asked him repeatedly for his loyalty, which Comey declined to give. Trump has denied that he did so, but said it would not have been wrong if he had.

A few weeks later, the day after Trump pushed out Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, who had provided misleading accounts of a phone call with Russia’s ambassador, the president asked Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, according to notes taken contemporaneously by Comey and read to a New York Times reporter. Comey refused.

Some critics of Trump have said that such a request, especially given that he later fired Comey, could be interpreted as an obstruction of justice.

But Republican lawmakers also plan to quiz Comey about why he did not act at the time if he considered the president’s request to be improper pressure.

In a separate development, Trump was preparing to launch a major push for a $1 trillion overhaul of the nation’s roads and bridges, a key item on his agenda that could face resistance in Congress and has been overshadowed by White House controversies.


Trump plans a series of events this coming week to highlight his effort to modernize American infrastructure — the highway, waterway, electrical, and airway systems on which the nation operates.

His campaign for public and private funding for the projects will include a trip to Ohio about inland waterways and meetings with mayors, governors, and Transportation Department officials.

The Trump administration has struggled to gain traction on many of its economic policies. Job growth has slowed in recent months instead of accelerating as the president predicted.

Trump has said he has tax legislation moving through Congress but his effort has been stalled and no bill has been written. His budget plan released during his foreign trip included math errors that enabled the White House to falsely claim that its tax plan would deliver both faster growth and a balanced budget.

Trump’s agenda has been overshadowed by the ongoing investigations into whether Trump campaign officials or associates colluded with Russian officials to influence the 2016 election, as well as scrutiny over Trump’s firing of Comey. And other policies on the agenda, such as health care and taxes, come first on the legislative calendar.

Trump’s push to revamp deteriorating roads, bridges, airports, and railways aims to unlock economic growth and succeed in an area where his predecessor, Barack Obama, was repeatedly thwarted by a Republican-led Congress.

Trump on Monday outlined his legislative principles for overhauling the air traffic control system, using a White House address to propose separating air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration, a key priority for US airlines.


The president plans to travel to Ohio on Wednesday to address ways of improving levees, dams, and locks along inland waterways that are crucial to agricultural exports. His visit is expected to include a speech that’s likely to touch on partnering with state and local governments.

In a conference call with reporters, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said the nation is ‘‘falling behind, and the falling behind is affecting economic growth in the United States. The president wants to fix the problems, and he doesn’t want to push these liabilities into the future.’’