In the first public appearance by a senior FBI official since President Donald Trump's shocking dismissal of James Comey, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe vowed to not provide the White House with updates on its investigation into any connection between Russia and the Trump campaign.
McCabe told the Senate Intelligence committee Thursday he would “absolutely” commit to informing them of any political interference into its investigation. McCabe said he spoke with Trump this week, but that they did not discuss the Russia investigation.
Comey, who publicly confirmed the existence of the FBI’s investigation in March, was originally supposed to testify at the committee's hearing on global threats on Thursday, but was fired by Trump two days before.
McCabe took the former director’s place at the hearing and assured senators that Comey's firing would not negatively affect the Russia investigation. "The work of the men and women of the FBI continues, despite any changes in circumstance, any decisions," McCabe said. "There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.
"Quite simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing."
In response to reports this week that Comey had requested additional resources for the Russia investigation before his firing, McCabe said he believes the FBI has the resources it needs to finish the probe.
McCabe, who will lead the FBI until Trump names a replacement for Comey and that nominee is confirmed by the Senate, also fact-checked recent claims from the White House about Comey's reputation and the Russia investigation.
On Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed the "rank-and-file members within the FBI had lost confidence" in Comey.
McCabe said “that is not accurate.”
“I worked very, very closely with Director Comey,” McCabe said. “I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity, and it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day.”
Sanders also claimed the Russia investigation was “probably one of the smallest things” on the FBI’s agenda.
Again, McCabe disagreed. “We consider it to be a highly significant investigation," he said.
At one point, committee Chair Richard Burr and Vice-chair Mark Warner abruptly left the hearing abruptly in order to meet with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose letter critical of Comey was cited as justification for his firing by the White House. The meeting had not been previously announced to the public.
But after the meeting, Burr said they didn’t discuss Comey with Rosenstein. “Director Comey did not come up. He was not the subject of it,” he said. The Republican senator told reporters that the meeting request had come before Comey's firing.
But Warner says he still has “concerns about Mr. Rosenstein in terms of his role in the Comey departure, in terms of the memo.”
Burr added that the goal of the meeting was to establish “a way forward” between the Department of Justice and the Intelligence committee, which is also investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
"Since the committee has an investigation going on very similar to what the Department of Justice has going on, we felt that there was a great need to set up a process for deconfliction, so that when we had witnesses that we needed to talk to, we made sure we weren’t stepping on top of anything that might be an active investigation," Burr said.