Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday undercut key parts of the narrative that President Donald Trump is trying to shut down an investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and Russian agents’ meddling in the 2016 election.
Those allegations reached a fever pitch on Tuesday when Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey. Progressives and Democratic members of Congress likened the move to the “Saturday Night Massacre,” when then-President Richard Nixon fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general in order to get someone would would dismiss special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.
“There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”
“So there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date. 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.”
But McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Comey’s dismissal has not and would not affect the ongoing investigation.
“The work of the men and women of the FBI continues, despite any changes in circumstance, and decisions,” he said in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “So there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date. 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 repeated that sentiment several times.
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“I absolutely do,” he said when Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked him if he would commit to informing the committee if the FBI faced any efforts to impede the investigation.
To Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), McCabe said: “It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely.”
McCabe assured Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that the staffing of the career agents on the case has not changed.
“All of the agents involved in the investigation are still in their positions,” he said, adding, “We don’t curtail our activities.”
McCabe also appeared to undermine media reports, which cited confidential sources, that Comey recently had asked the Justice Department for more resources for the Russia probe.
“When we need resources, we make those requests here,” he said, referring to Congress. “I’m not aware of that request [cited in the media], and it’s not consistent with my understanding of how we request additional resources.”
McCabe said he would inform Congress if the agency does require more support. He testified that the FBI typically does not ask for resources on individual cases. In fact, he said, the investigation has the money and staffing it needs to proceed.
“If you’re referring to the Russia investigation, I do,” he told Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “I believe we have the adequate resources to do it, and I know that we have resourced that investigation adequately … I can assure you we are covered.”
McCabe suggested Collins was wrong that the FBI sends letters to the targets of investigations. That is not the FBI’s practice, he said.
McCabe did dispute the White House contention that Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file agents. But he declined to answer some questions. For instance, Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) asked if Comey had told Trump that he was not a target of the investigation. The president referenced such conversations in his letter dismissing Comey.
“I can’t comment on any conversation the director may have had with the president,” McCabe said.
McCabe said he has spoken to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation in light of a recusal by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was a campaign surrogate. McCabe said he has not spoken with Sessions or anyone at the White House about the matter.
Democrats on the committee tried to keep the focus on Trump. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) referenced campaign statements by Trump — in which he praised WikiLeaks and said the Russians ought to try to find Democrat Hillary Clinton’s missing emails — in asserting that the GOP candidate encouraged illegal activity by a foreign power.
“That is an established fact,” he said. “The only question is whether he or someone else associated with him coordinated with the Russians.”
Warner called the Comey firing a “shocking development” and “troubling.” He said committee members had wanted to hear from Comey on Thursday.
“However, President Trump’s actions this week cost us an opportunity to get at the truth, at least today,” he said.
But McCabe said there would be no pause or interruption in the work of FBI agents. He told Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) that he would assure those agents that they had support of the FBI leadership and did not have to worry they would be fired if they pressed too hard.
“I don’t believe there is a crisis in confidence in the leadership of the FBI,” he said. “I suppose that’s somewhat self-serving. And I apologize for that. It was completely within the president’s authority to take the steps that he did. We all understand that.”