8 senators to watch at Thursday's James Comey hearing

During Thursday's hearing, fired FBI director James Comey stressed that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election cycle with purpose, sophistication and was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government. 

Any one of the 15 senators who serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee could make news Thursday when each of them gets a chance to question former FBI director James Comey about his conversations with President Trump before Trump abruptly fired him last month.

However, there are certain senators who, based on their leadership roles, ideologies or general unpredictability, should be especially interesting to watch. Here's a look:

Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.


The soft-spoken Southerner from a swing state is in the unenviable position of leading an investigation that could severely damage a president from his own party. But that doesn't mean Burr will play defense for Trump or try to discredit Comey, whom he called "a public servant of the highest order" after Trump fired him. The senator wants to prove that his committee is serious and bipartisan in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Thursday's hearing could help him show how credible that investigation is and underscore why an independent commission — which Democrats have called for — isn't needed.

Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va.

The moderate Democrat and former governor has worked with Burr to ensure that the committee's investigation is as bipartisan as possible, which likely helped convince Comey to testify before the panel. Warner is expected to home in on the details of Comey's conversations with Trump, including when and where they took place, who else was present, and whether Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Trump asked him to shut down the FBI's investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's ties to Russia. Sessions recommended that Trump fire Comey.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

Collins, an independent-minded New Englander who is considered the most moderate Republican in the Senate, has said she wants to know whether Trump was merely inquiring about the Flynn investigation when he spoke to Comey or whether he was trying to pressure him to drop it. "If the president said, 'look, I just fired the guy, I feel bad for him, what do you think is going to happen,' that is one thing," Collins said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation. "If, on the other hand, the president said to Mr. Comey, 'I want you to end this investigation of General Flynn, I want it ended now, and if you don't do so, you are going to be in trouble,' that is a whole different nature of a conversation."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.


Harris, who was elected last fall, has the least experience in the U.S. Senate of anyone on the committee. However, the rising Democratic star is the only member of the panel who has experience as a prosecutor, making her uniquely qualified to question Comey. She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, where she specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases. She later joined the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, where she led the Career Criminal Unit. She was elected to two terms as district attorney of San Francisco before becoming California's first female attorney general.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

Lankford is a strong conservative who has shown an independent streak. Lankford has called Comey someone "who I have respect for, and I think has worked incredibly hard." In an interview on CNN last month, Lankford said the committee is "going to go where the facts go." "I do not have an obligation to do cover-up for anybody," he told anchor Anderson Cooper. "Neither do i have an obligation to try to send out a message that is inconsistent with the facts. Where the facts go ... we have to go. And that's a commitment that we've made in a bipartisan way."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The liberal senator from Portland is the committee's most outspoken advocate for protecting Americans' privacy rights and reining in FBI surveillance of U.S. citizens, and he has been an outspoken critic of Comey. Wyden has tangled with Comey over the issue of encryption, which Comey has complained gets in the way of FBI agents' efforts to unlock the cellphones of suspected terrorists. Wyden has fought efforts to weaken encryption, saying it would make Americans more vulnerable to hacking and reduce national security instead of improving it. Despite his disagreements with Comey, Wyden blasted Trump for his "outrageous" decision to fire Comey in the midst of the FBI's Russia investigation.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

Cornyn, who serves as the No. 2 Republican in the Senate as majority whip, is the highest-ranking member of Senate leadership on the committee. While many Republican senators expressed concern about Trump's firing of Comey, the Texan defended the president's decision, calling it "within his authority." He took to Twitter immediately after Comey was fired, blasting Democrats as hypocrites for defending Comey after they had criticized the former FBI director's handling of last year's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of State. Cornyn was initially on the list of possible replacements for Comey but asked the White House to remove him from consideration.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Rubio, who lost the GOP presidential nomination to Trump last year, has been a frequent critic of the president when it comes to Russia. Rubio believes that the White House should take a harder line against Kremlin aggression against Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea. He also has dismissed Trump's complaint that investigations of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia are a "witch hunt." "The president is entitled to his opinion, but we are a nation of laws," Rubio told reporters last month. His reaction to Comey's firing was muted — he said only that he was "surprised" by the action.

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