Former FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony Thursday is one of the most highly anticipated hearings in recent memory — but his words are unlikely to surprise special counsel Robert Mueller, whose team has been in contact with Comey, according to two of his associates.
Friends of Comey say they expect the testimony to largely stick to his conversations with President Donald Trump and is unlikely to break ground on the investigation into potential collusion with Russia and any of Trump’s associates. That is not surprising, legal experts say, because of the ongoing investigation that Mueller took over last month.
These people say Comey is trying to be careful "to just describe what happened with the president and how he felt about it," in the words of one associate. But this person said Comey "wants to correct the record, from his point of view, on certain things the president and his aides have said."
One Comey friend said "there had been conversations" between Comey and Mueller’s team before the testimony and "Mueller won’t be surprised."
Mueller is still at the early stages of his investigation, which will likely be a sprawling probe into whether Trump’s campaign aides colluded with Russian officials who were trying to tip the election Trump’s way. The probe could also include allegations from Comey that Trump pressured him during an Oval Office meeting to back off an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump abruptly fired Comey last month, and said in a television interview that the pressure from the Russia investigation was a factor in his decision.
Comey’s friends and associates said the former FBI official is likely to shed new light on his communications with Trump.
"My fundamental expectation is we’re going to learn a lot. This is a format he’s extremely comfortable with and he does very well with. He has an ability to present in a coherent, sustained narrative, " said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Comey friend. "… I suspect we will not learn anything about the substance of the investigation."
Wittes said he was unaware of the details of what Comey would say, but expected that his friend took detailed notes on his conversations with senior White House officials, including Trump.
"I would not be surprised if his record of those interactions are quite extensive and quite complete," Wittes said.
Peter Carr, a Mueller spokesman, declined to comment on the testimony.
One Comey associate said he wasn’t limited in what he could say in his testimony but that Comey was likely to curb his comments because of the investigation. This person said Comey was looking forward to Thursday and "has been really wanting to testify in front of everyone."
"If he did it behind closed doors, it was going to be more anonymous sources this, anonymous sources that," this person said.
But the White House is far from enthusiastic about the public spectacle that’s shaping up.
Several White House officials noted with frustration the countdown clocks that have been on TV this week before the testimony. "It’s like nothing else matters this week," one Republican close to the White House said. "I think they feel like they are just waiting and waiting and waiting and have no control."
They have begun talking to surrogates about questioning Comey’s credibility — particularly his previous testimony that he didn’t feel there was interference into the Russia probe. However, Comey’s comments were specifically about potential interference from the attorney general or senior Justice Department officials.
“There is bipartisan agreement, including from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that former FBI Director Comey needs to answer a simple question about his conversations with President Trump: If you were so concerned, why didn’t you act on it or notify Congress?" wrote the Republican National Committee in an email.
But two other White House officials said they aren’t exactly sure what Comey would say — or exactly what they should do to minimize the fallout.
Trump, however, had a few words for Comey as reporters shouted questions at him on Tuesday about the upcoming testimony: "I wish him good luck."
Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.