McCabe vows to notify Senate committee if White House tries to interfere in Russia probe
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe Thursday voiced “the absolute highest regard” for the fired director of the bureau, James Comey, and said Comey enjoyed broad support among rank and file FBI agents, a portrayal utterly at odds with that given by the White House.
In remarks before the Senate Intelligence Committee, McCabe pledged that the FBI would not be thwarted in its investigation into whether Russian influence operations helped put Donald Trump in the White House.
Trump, who axed FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, kept up the attack Thursday, calling Comey “a showboat” and a “grandstander” in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt. He said Comey threw the FBI into “turmoil.” Earlier in the week, Trump said the FBI-led investigation into possible collusion with Russia is a “total hoax.”
McCabe, who took the reins of the bureau in the wake of Comey’s ouster, heaped praise on his former boss during the hearing into worldwide threats against the United States.
Asked if Comey had lost the confidence of rank-and-file employees at the bureau, as a White House spokeswoman had asserted a day earlier, McCabe said: “No, sir, that is not accurate.”
“I worked very, very closely with Director Comey from the moment he started at the FBI,” McCabe said. “I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and integrity, and it has been greatest honor of my professional life to work with him.”
McCabe added that Comey “enjoyed broad support in the bureau, and still does to this day.” While opinions differ among the FBI’s 36,500 employees, McCabe said, “I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.”
The sharply differing portrayals of Comey underscore not only the partisan divide but the chasm over basic facts involving the FBI-led investigation into Russia’s ongoing efforts to influence internal politics of the United States, a traditional global rival.
In his letter firing Comey, Trump said the former FBI director had told him on three separate occasions that the investigation did not involve him. Trump told Holt in the interview aired Tuesday that during a dinner he had with Comey to discuss his future, he asked whether he personally was touched by the investigation.
“If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?” Trump said he queried of Comey. “He said, ‘you are not under investigation.’”
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Comey had suffered a steady erosion of support that began in the Oval Office and spread across government.
“The (Justice Department) lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director,” Sanders said.
Sanders said Comey’s inability to hunt down the source of leaks in the executive branch was “one of the many factors” that led to his ouster.
“That was just another one of the many reasons that he no longer had the confidence of the president or the rest of the FBI,” Sanders said.
At the Senate hearing, both Democratic and Republican senators pressed McCabe on whether the White House had attempted to squelch the Russia influence investigation.
“Has the dismissal of Mr. Comey in any way impeded, interrupted, stopped or negatively impacted any of the work, any investigation, or any ongoing projects at the Federal Bureau of Investigation?” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, asked McCabe.
“There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” McCabe responded.
Responding to a separate query from another Republican, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, McCabe said the FBI probe would not be derailed.
“It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue the investigation vigorously and completely,” McCabe said.
McCabe told the intelligence committee’s ranking member, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, that he would sound the alarm if he felt there was meddling from elsewhere in the government to the investigation.