Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said Thursday he would not update the White House on the agency’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election amid growing concerns that President Trump could again try to interfere with the probe.
Throughout a lengthy day of testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, McCabe, who took over for James Comey Tuesday evening after Trump abruptly fired him, refuted numerous claims made by the White House to justify its actions.
McCabe at one point called his agency’s Trump-Russia investigation “highly significant,” contradicting suggestions from the White House a day earlier that the probe was “one of the smallest things . . . on (the FBI’s) plate” and, at another point, dismissed as “not accurate” Trump’s claim — used to justify the termination — that Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file FBI agents.
“I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” he said, calling it the “greatest privilege and honor in my professional life to work with him.”
McCabe, appearing alongside other intelligence agency bosses, also vowed to regularly update the Senate Intelligence Committee if the executive branch were to, in fact, get in the way of the investigation and assured lawmakers that, despite Comey’s sudden removal, the agency’s investigation would continue, unfettered.
“Simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution,” McCabe said.
When asked by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, whether he would tell the committee if the White House ever attempted to interfere, he promised to do so.
“I absolutely do,” McCabe said.
He also noted there’d “been no effort to impede our investigation to date” from anyone from the White House.
In a bizarre twist, the top two members of the panel, Warner and Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) suddenly departed from the hearing to meet privately with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who in a memo for Trump had suggested Comey be fired because he mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, in a room next to the hearing.
The senators later said the meeting was about how the Senate Intelligence Committee probe into Russian activities during the election could proceed without interfering with the FBI’s investigation into the matter.
Later Thursday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refuted several of McCabe’s statements, saying during her daily briefing that she’d “heard from countless members of the FBI who are grateful and thankful for the President’s decision.”
Trump’s abrupt termination of Comey — a decision reportedly fueled by the commander-in-chief’s anger and frustration at his refusal to clear him in his agency’s Russia probe — has cast an enormous cloud over the integrity of the ongoing FBI probe.
In his letter Tuesday to Comey, Trump cited those recommendations from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein and claimed that the now-former director informed Trump “on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
Soon after he took office, Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to him, a request that Comey turned down, according to the New York Times. Comey felt that conversation, which occurred over a dinner in January, was the beginning of his downfall, The Times reported.
Comey declined to make the pledge twice at the one-on-one dinner. Instead, he told others, he told Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense, according to The Times.
In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Trump said Comey asked for the White House dinner, which was one of three occasions when Comey had told him “you are not under investigation.”
Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt that Comey wanted to make a pitch to keep his job.
“I think he asked for the dinner, and he wanted to stay on as the FBI head,” the President said. “And I said I’ll, you know, consider and we’ll see what happens.”
McCabe, a career FBI agent, would not confirm or deny any of Trump’s claims.
“I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the President,” McCabe said.
With News Wire Services