DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Republicans are within weeks of giving up control of the House, and so they are taking their chance while they have it to question the former director of the FBI, James Comey. Comey has been at the center of, well, a lot - the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server, Comey has also accused the president of making demands for his personal loyalty and said that Trump pressured him to back off investigating his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. But to many Republicans, Comey embodies what they see as a deep state and an intelligence community with a vendetta against President Trump. Comey is speaking behind closed doors today to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees.
Democrat Robin Kelly of Illinois is on the House Oversight Committee and joins us this morning. Congresswoman, thanks for your time.
ROBIN KELLY: Oh, you're quite welcome.
GREENE: And we should say you're actually in your district and won't be at the meeting today, but this is your committee, so I just wonder, what are you hoping to hear from the former FBI director?
KELLY: Well, always want to hear the truth. I want to hear honesty. I don't know what questions my colleagues on the other side are going to ask. I can't imagine. But as long as he's truthful and he's honest, I think we'll be in good shape and he'll be in good shape.
GREENE: It's - I'm hearing in your voice - tell me if I'm wrong - that you don't necessarily think there was a reason to bring him here, that you're just waiting and seeing what your Republican colleagues have in mind.
KELLY: You're hearing correctly (laughter). No. I just think that they're using their last gasp of power to make what point, I'm not sure of. I don't know if they are anticipating what we're going to do so they have to get in their - what they think are their first licks. But they're just - and also they're trying to undermine the credibility, to me, of the FBI and the Department of Justice.
GREENE: Well, let me just play a little bit. This is an interview with Fox News with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, saying that Democrats should want this hearing as much as Republicans do.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BOB GOODLATTE: If I were a Democrat, I'd be concerned about some of the actions taken by Mr. Comey and others in the FBI leading right up to the election - announcing a reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email and then announcing, again, immediately after that it was being shut down. I mean, there are a lot of things that we've learned in the background of that that are going to come out as a part of this that I think should be of interest to every American.
GREENE: Congresswoman, isn't it important, I mean, for - you know, as you go forward, as Democrats take control of the House, to try and work through the credibility of James Comey, who was FBI director, you know, as the Russia investigation was getting underway? I mean, if your Republican colleagues raised some questions about how he handled the Clinton email server - which is something that I believe a lot of Democrats criticized him for, as well.
KELLY: We criticized him. But I also think it's disingenuous to wait until not even the 11th hour, 10 minutes to 12, to all of a sudden have this hearing. And we haven't had hearings on other things like Russia's interference and things we could have hearings on. And to wait this late, I think, is ridiculous. We could have the hearing, you know, after January 3, if we want to have the hearing.
GREENE: Well, speaking of that, I mean, you said they want to get their licks in before they lose control of the House. What are Democrats' first licks going to be as you take over and get to decide what hearings happen?
KELLY: Well, I don't think we're looking at it as licks. I think we're just trying to get to the truth. It's not just about Russia and Trump. There's a lot of things we wanted to have hearings about, like the census, you know, our failed response to hurricanes. Opioid epidemic - there's only been one hearing in two years. There's a lot of things that we want to cover. And as you heard throughout the campaign, people that ran for office, people currently in office, we talked about different things - health care, and we talked about increased wages and infrastructure. So I know they think that we want to get our licks in, but that's not what we're about.
GREENE: I just want to be really...
KELLY: We want to move the country forward.
GREENE: I want to be really clear here because there are a lot of Democratic voters who are talking about, I mean, even the idea of trying to impeach the president of the United States. And they're thinking that House members from their party should be pursuing that. They're probably not going to - those voters are probably not going to like hearing what you're saying here. But you're saying you're going to focus on other things?
KELLY: Well, we want to hear what Mueller has to say first. It's not that we're not going to have hearings - believe me. Oversight and Government Reform and who will be the chairman, Elijah Cummings, he will oversee hearings. It's not that. But we want to get to the truth and the facts in a methodical way. But it's not going to be, you know, we have to get this revenge. We have to show the American people that we know how to govern and move the country forward. I think that's the most important thing. But we will have hearings, and we will get to the truth.
GREENE: Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois joining us from her district this morning. Congresswoman, thanks. We appreciate it.
KELLY: You're quite welcome.
GREENE: I want to turn to NPR's Tim Mak, who's in the studio with me and has been following a lot of these issues - the Russia investigation, James Comey and all else. Tim, thanks for coming in.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Of course.
GREENE: What did you hear there, listening to the congresswoman?
MAK: Two major points - firstly, Democrats aren't going to be too active in their participation in this interview today. They don't think there's a lot of good reasons for James Comey to even be there. The other point I think that is super interesting is her answer to your question about what is oversight going to be in the new Congress.
MAK: There is a big disconnect, I think, between what members of the progressive base want and what a lot of members in the Democratic House are planning to do in January.
GREENE: A balancing act a lot of Democratic lawmakers are going to have.
MAK: Absolutely. You hear that oversight is going to be focused on things like the census and opioid addiction and hurricane response - not the sort of red meat that a lot of folks in the grassroots are really trying to get after, which is things like Russia, which is things like the Mueller investigation. That's going to be less of a priority than the issues they want to pursue.
GREENE: And just a technical thing here. Comey - it's behind closed doors, but we'll see a transcript in, like, 24 hours after this happens?
MAK: That's right. He agreed to appear only on the condition that there was a transcript released after he appeared.
GREENE: OK. NPR's Tim Mak. We appreciate it, Tim. Thanks.
MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.