WASHINGTON (CN) – Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday contradicted the White House claim that fired director James Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file members of the bureau.
Testifying Thursday morning at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, McCabe said the claim is not accurate.
“I can tell you that I hold director Comey in the absolute highest regard,” he 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.”
“I can tell you also that director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day,” he added.
Speaking on behalf of the 36,500 agents working at the FBI in the U.S. and around the globe, McCabe added: “I can confidently tell you that the majority – the vast majority of FBI employees – enjoyed a deep and positive connection to director Comey.”
When Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., later asked McCabe if morale at the FBI changed after Comey declined on July 5, 2016, to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for allegedly mishandling classified information, McCabe acknowledged some hard feelings.
“I think morale has always been good,” he said. “However, we had – there were folks within our agency who were frustrated with the outcome of the Hillary Clinton case and some of those folks were very vocal about those concerns.”
McCabe went on to tell the committee that the White House has not tried to interfere with its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
“The work of the men and women of the FBI continues despite any changes in circumstance, any decisions, so there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” he said in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“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,” he added.
McCabe testified that no career agents have been removed from the Russia investigation and said he believes the FBI has adequate resources to see it through.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, pressed him about a May 10 New York Times story that said Comey had asked the Justice Department for more resources for the investigation several days before President Trump fired him.
“I cannot confirm that request was made,” he replied.
Comey, not McCabe, had been scheduled to appear alongside other intelligence community chiefs for a hearing on worldwide threats.
The vice chairman of the committee, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, noted Comey’s absence.
“It is impossible to ignore that one of the leaders of the intelligence community isn’t here with us today,” he said. “The president’s firing of FBI Director Comey Tuesday night was a shocking development – the timing of director Comey’s dismissal, to me and to many members on both sides of the aisle, is especially troubling,” he added.
Warner asked McCabe to promise to inform the committee if he comes under any political influence from the White House to squash or impede the FBI’s Russia investigation.
“I absolutely do,” McCabe said.
McCabe, however declined to confirm President Donald Trump’s account that fired director James Comey told him he wasn’t under investigation, saying it would be inappropriate for him to comment on any such conversations.
The committee’s Republican chairman Sen. Richard Burr of South Carolina asked McCabe if Comey had ever told Trump that he was not the subject of any investigation. In his letter Tuesday firing Comey, Trump said Comey had told him three times that he was not under investigation.
McCabe told Burr that he could not comment on any conversations between Trump and Comey.
However under questioning from Collins, McCabe said “it is not” standard practice for the FBI to inform someone they are not the target of a federal investigation.
“So it would be unusual and not standard practice for there to have been a notification from the FBI director to President Trump, or anyone else involved in this investigation, informing him or her that that individual is not a target, is that correct,” Collins asked McCabe.
McCabe again declined to comment on whether Comey had notified President Trump, but Collins interrupted him: “I’m not asking you to comment on the facts of the case, I’m just trying to find out what’s standard practice and what’s not,” she said.
“I’m not aware of that being a standard practice,” McCabe responded.
McCabe had previously told Collins that the Justice Department also does not inform individuals who are the targets of agency investigations. When she pressed him on that a second time, he deferred to the DOJ to answer that question.
McCabe agreed during the hearing to refrain from updating the White House about the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, which as Comey stated March 20 to the House Intelligence Committee, includes an examination of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
McCabe reaffirmed Comey’s statements about the nature of the FBI investigation, and called it “highly significant” when Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asked about the accuracy of White House statements made Wednesday that the Russia investigation is one of the smallest things on its plate.