The absence of former FBI Director James Comey loomed large over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing with top U.S. intelligence leaders, but his temporary replacement, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, assured lawmakers he would not bend to pressure from the White House.
“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.
McCabe directly contradicted White House assertions that one of the reasons Comey was fired by President Trump on Tuesday was because he had lost respect and support of the FBI rank-and-file.
“Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” McCabe said, saying he holds Comey in the “absolute highest regard.”
McCabe also said that the FBI’s ongoing probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was “highly significant,” disputing a White House characterization that the investigation “was one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate.”
“It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely,” McCabe also said.
Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., noted that Comey’s absence was atop his mind and that he had plenty of questions for McCabe and the other intelligence leaders about the Russia probe.
“It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the president’s decision to remove Director Comey was related to the Russia investigation,” Warner said, “and that is truly unacceptable.”
McCabe assured Warner that he would alert the committee if anyone tried to influence the FBI probe into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. He also said later he would not update the White House on the ongoing Russia investigation.
Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., made it clear in his opening statement that he wanted the hearing to be about more than just Russia and reiterated that the hearing at-large was supposed to be about worldwide threats. But questions about Russia, the ongoing FBI investigation and Comey’s dismissal largely dominated the hearing.
In his own first question to McCabe, Burr asked the acting FBI director about one of the more puzzling and surprising statements in Trump’s termination letter to Comey — that the law enforcement chief told the president on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation in regards to Russia.
“Sir, I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president,” McCabe responded.
He later told Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that it was not standard FBI practice to notify someone if they are not under investigation.
This report was originally published in NPR and can be reach HERE fore more.