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As Senate hearings heat up, Warner calls FBI nomination ‘an effort to distract’ the public

Senate Committee on Intelligence ranking member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., talks to reporters before a closed-door committee meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 6, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Within minutes of President Trump’s announcement of his choice for FBI director on Wednesday, Sen. Mark Warner — the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee — questioned the timing, saying, “Clearly, this is an effort by the president to try to distract attention from our hearings today and our hearings tomorrow.”

Warner made the comments on CBS’ “This Morning” after Trump tweeted that he would be nominating former Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray to replace James Comey as head of the bureau. The Virginia Democrat is the top Democrat on the committee that is hearing testimony from National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers Wednesday, and ousted FBI Director James Comey Thursday. Democrats are particularly interested in asking them whether Trump pressured them to ease or drop investigations into his campaign’s ties with Russia. Coats told the committee he wouldn’t discuss his conversations with the president in a public session.

Though Warner stopped short of saying in his interview that such pressure by Trump would constitute obstruction of justice, he said it would show “a really disturbing pattern,” and invoked Watergate as a precedent for the danger of presidents intervening in investigations involving them or their associates. Warner also offered a preview of his strategy for the two days of consequential public testimony.

“Some of the questions I’m going to ask are going to be a bit uncomfortable,” Warner said, “but I think in this case, the American public’s need to know — with this cloud that hangs over everything that this administration is doing — if they can help clarify, I hope they’ll step up.”

On CNN’s “New Day,” where he also was interviewed, Warner hinted that the hearings Wednesday and Thursday may reveal a “pattern of constant intervention,” and signaled the line of questioning he and colleagues may pursue with Comey.

“If we have … Director Comey tomorrow describing the series of conversations he had with the president and the fact that he felt uncomfortable, why did he feel uncomfortable?” Warner said.

Referencing the written accounts of the meetings that Comey associates have described to reporters, Warner asked, “Why did he have to produce memos? It raises, to me, a huge amount of questions.”

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