By Jordain Carney - 06-10-17 06:01 AM EDT
A key Senate panel is considering whether to step up its battle to meet with former FBI Director James Comey, who gave dramatic testimony this week to a competing committee.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are debating subpoenaing Comey to compel his testimony.
The move would mark a dramatic escalation of their effort to dig into Russia's election interference and potential ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Hill that she and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the committee, have discussed forcing Comey to appear before their panel.
"He asked me and I said I would," said Feinstein, who made it clear that she would defer to Grassley on a timeline for the decision.
A spokesman for the Iowa Republican told The Hill that "no specific decisions on issuing subpoenas have been made at this time."
"Senator Grassley is willing to consider issuing subpoenas in the course of the Judiciary Committee's ongoing and bipartisan oversight," the spokesman said.
The Judiciary Committee can subpoena an individual or information either when Feinstein and Grassley come to an agreement or if it's approved by a vote of the full committee, according to the committee's rules.
Comey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. His closely-watched testimony marked the first public comments since he was fired, and sparked a media frenzy on Capitol Hill.
But his refusal to meet with the Judiciary Committee is increasingly frustrating members of the panel, who have oversight over the FBI.
"I keep looking at Comey's testimony about the FBI and thinking 'Why isn't this in the Senate Judiciary Committee?'" Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.), a member of the committee, told The Hill.
"This really raises some fundamental questions about the Federal Bureau of Investigation and I hope we'll play a much more aggressive role in the future," he said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) added that "at some point the Judiciary Committee has to decide whether it's going to continue to be a serious committee any more."
Neither Durbin nor Whitehouse specifically endorsed the idea of subpoenaing Comey. Durbin, noting that Comey has been cooperative, added "I hope it doesn't come to that."
But other Democratic members of the committee quickly backed the idea.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) predicted that if Comey was subpoenaed he would comply.
Told of Grassley's comments, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) added "how delightful."
Democrats are clamoring to publicly dig into Comey's firing.
In addition to pushing Comey to come before the Judiciary Committee, they also want Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly testify.
Two Senate panels- the Judiciary and Intelligence committees - are conducting separate probes, but the spotlight is increasingly shifting to the Intelligence Committee as requests from the Judiciary Committee appear to be running into a brick wall.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) appeared frustrated during a recent committee business meeting about the inability for the committee to get answers or a commitment from Comey to testify.
She noted that she's talking to Democratic leadership about getting them to support Comey testifying before the Judiciary Committee-something Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly backed.
"We have these kinds of jurisdictional disputes sometimes but it seems to me that all, nearly like 90 percent of these issues, should be under our committee. ...Leadership has to say at some point 'no these issues are issues for the Judiciary Committee," the Minnesota Democrat said.
Grassley - who noted that he was discussing next steps with Feinstein-replied: "I think you're finding a stonewall that opposes what you and I feel about this, and... I resent it."
Asked if Grassley and Feinstein would need to, or have, discussed subpoenaing Comey with leadership, a Grassley spokesman pointed to the committee's rules, which specifically leave the decision to the Judiciary Committee.
A spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also noted the Kentucky Republican hasn't publicly weighed in.
"He typically doesn't tell the committees who to bring in," the spokesman said.
Grassley has a reputation for riling administrations of both parties with his oversight, but forcing Comey to testify could carry political risk for Republicans.
Another hearing would give Comey a second chance to repeat his testimony, including accusing Trump of lying, and distract from a GOP agenda that is already months behind schedule.
"It's not helpful," said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. "I understand Judiciary's mad. They wanted to get the first crack at him. ...I don't begrudge Judiciary wanting to bring him back."
Trump has claimed Comey's testimony as a victory, seizing on the former FBI director's decision to allow a "close friend" to leak his memos to a reporter.
"[Comey] showed no collusion, no obstruction. We are doing really well. ...We were very, very happy and, frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said. And some of the things that he said just weren't true," Trump said during a press conference on Friday.
Testifying before the Judiciary Committee could also backfire for Comey.
Mackowiak noted that Thursday's hearing had some positives for Trump - including Comey confirming he told the president at the time that he wasn't under investigation - and having another hearing "might offer some members of the committee additional time to prepare questions" on Comey's leaks.
Grassley has seized on the issue, saying he was "upset" about Comey's decision to leak materials given previous comments he made to Judiciary that he didn't leak to the media.
"Maybe he didn't leak before [he was fired], but isn't it funny that he's leaking now to establish... something he was interested in doing," Grassley told Iowa reporters during a conference call.
Marc Kasowitz, Trump's lawyer, is reportedly filing a complaint over Comey's decision.
Meanwhile, Grassley, Feinstein, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Whitehouse released a letter on Friday requesting Comey's memos from Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia University Law School.
Some GOP members also downplayed the need for Comey to come and speak again.
"I don't see any reason for it, but I would support Senator Grassley. He's the chairman," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told The Hill, when asked if he thought lawmakers should subpoena Comey.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, floated that members should hold off and review Comey's testimony to the Intelligence Committee, which he is a member of.
"I think we ought to take a look at what he's testified to, and see what other questions people would have," he told The Hill. "I don't know how many times...the director now that he's a private citizen will agree to come back and testify."
But he quickly added that "clearly" Grassley's panel has jurisdiction, quipping: "I'm on the Judiciary Committee too, so I'm not throwing any shade."