President Donald Trump’s decision to sack the director of the FBI two days before he was set to testify before the Senate Intel Committee loomed large over today’s public hearing of that committee.
Senate Intel Committee chair Richard Burr’s first question to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe was to ask if he’d ever heard ousted FBI chief James Comey tell Trump he was not the subject of an investigation. In his letter firing Comey on Tuesday, Trump stated Comey had three times told him he was not under investigation.
“Sir I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president,” McCabe responded, disappointing millions watching the hearing on TV and via livestream, not to mention website headline writers.
However, McCabe said, when asked, that it is not standard practice for the FBI to inform someone they are not the subject of an investigation.
Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner noted the timing of Comey’s firing was “especially troubling” to members of both political parties on the committee.
McCabe appeared before the committee with CIA director Mike Pompeo, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats. Warner asked them whether they were certain Russian intel agencies were responsible for meddling in the presidential election in order to influence the outcome. Each man answered “yes.”
Warner thanked them for that unanimous response, adding he appreciates their stating, for the record, that the assertion is “not a piece of fake news” – as Trump repeatedly has insisted.
Warner also asked McCabe if, for however long he is acting FBI Director, would he commit to informing the committee if he became aware of any effort to interfere with the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling. That investigation includes looking into whether any Trump campaign associates had contacts with Russian reps during the campaign to affect the election outcome.
“I absolutely do,” McCabe responded.
“In light of what happened in the last 48 hours it is critically important we have that assurance,” Warner said, adding that he hoped McCabe would convey to bureau staffers that the committee is committed to supporting them in their efforts “and their independence.”
McCabe also promised he would not update Trump on the investigation, which he called a “highly significant” probe, contradicting White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders who, on Wednesday called that investigation “one of the smallest things that [FBI] has got going on their plate.”
He also shot holes into Sanders’ assertion, in explaining the firing, that Comey had lost the confidence of the bureau.
“I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard,” McCabe said, adding, “I can confidently tell you that the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to” Comey. That in response to a question from Sen. Martin Heinrich.
Warner earlier had said it is hard to avoid concluding that Trump’s decision to sack Comey was related to this investigation. Days before Comey was fired, he had asked the DOJ for a big boost in resources for his probe into Russia’s election rannygazoo, the NYT reported, citing four congressional officials. McCabe said he could not confirm that, adding that it is not typical for the FBI to request additional funding for a specific investigation.