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 president Donald Trump.
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.
He then sent a not so veiled message to 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 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.”
The Bureau’s acting director 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.
While Trump has continued to cast doubt on the intelligence community’s findings that Russia did seek to influence the U.S. elections to benefit his campaign, the intelligence leaders were unanimous in their assessment that Russia had indeed interfered with the election.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was unequivocal in his conclusion that there was meddling in his written testimony submitted to the committee:
“Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture. This aggressiveness was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election, and we assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 US election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets.”
Also joining McCabe and Coats on the panel are: CIA Director Michael Pompeo, National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers and the heads of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.