New acting FBI chief pushes back on WH assertion that rank and file lost confidence in Comey

PHOTO: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe listens on Capitol Hill, May 11, 2017, during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. PlayJacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
WATCH White House and FBI on opposite sides

The acting head of the FBI today pushed back on White House assertions this week that the agency’s rank and file lost confidence in James Comey before his firing as FBI director.

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"I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day," acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee, though he noted that some bureau agents who disagreed with Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email case were "vocal" about their dissent.

McCabe, who started his career at the FBI in the mid-1990s and became its deputy director last year, offered an impassioned, personal defense of Comey.

"I worked very, very closely with Director Comey from the moment he started at the FBI [in 2013] ... I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard," McCabe said.

"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."

His statements contradicted comments from White House officials this week.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing Wednesday, "Most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director."

Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, told CNN Wednesday, "Jim Comey had lost the confidence of people at the FBI."

Later on Thursday, McCabe's assessment about Comey's level of support within the bureau was backed up by the FBI Agents Association.

"Director Comey enjoyed broad support and respect within the Bureau," Thomas F. O'Connor, the association's president, said in a statement. "He was a consistent and strong advocate for Agents. As we move forward, Agents continue to do our work with the same level of professionalism and commitment that the American people expect and deserve."

The 'highly significant' investigation continues

McCabe told senators today that the firing of Comey has not affected his agency's investigation into whether Donald Trump's associates colluded with Russian officials to influence last year's presidential election, and McCabe promised to speak up if there is any effort by the White House to impede the wide-ranging probe.

"The work of the men and women of the FBI continues despite any changes in circumstance," he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, calling the Russia probe "a highly significant investigation," despite White House claims to the contrary.

He added, "There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date. You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing."

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., asked McCabe whether he would commit to informing the committee if the White House makes any moves to "quash" or otherwise impede the FBI's Russia-related investigation.

"I absolutely do," McCabe responded.

McCabe challenged reports that Comey requested additional resources

During today's hearing, McCabe said of reports that, just before being fired, Comey asked for more funds and staffing for the Russia investigation, "I'm not aware of that request, and it's not consistent with my understanding of how we request additional resources," McCabe said. "We don't typically request resources for an individual case. And ... I strongly believe that the Russia investigation is adequately resourced."

No comment on whether Trump is under investigation

McCabe refused to answer questions about Trump's assertion in his letter of dismissal to Comey that Comey assured Trump that he was not under investigation.

"I will not comment on whether the director and the president of the United States had that kind of a conversation," McCabe said.

The elephant in the room

Noting that Comey — not McCabe — was originally set to testify at today's hearing, Warner said, "Trump's actions this week cost us an opportunity to get at the truth, at least for today."

Warner called Comey's firing Tuesday as FBI director "shocking" and "especially troubling."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, "The timing of this firing is wrong to anyone with a semblance of ethics."

As today's hearing got underway, two Republicans — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and the committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. — also alluded to the controversy surrounding Comey's firing.

Burr told McCabe, "Welcome to the table and into the fray" and thanked him for "filling in on such short notice."

McCabe was just one of several top U.S. officials testifying today before the committee, which was holding a broad hearing on threats to the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests around the world.

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