Andrew McCabe, acting head of the Federal Investigation Bureau, contradicted President Donald Trump’s appraisal of turmoil at the agency under James Comey, the man the president sacked on Tuesday.
McCabe said there was nothing like that and went on to praise Comey’s professional integrity.
“I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity,” McCabe added. “And it has been the greatest privilege and honour of my professional life to work with him.”
McCabe promised to tell the panel of any White House meddling into the agency’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
McCabe testified in place of Comey, who Trump abruptly dismissed as FBI director on Tuesday in an action that has roiled Washington.
Democrats have accused the Republican president of trying to foil the FBI’s probe into Moscow’s actions and many have called for a special prosecutor to look into the matter.
“He’s a showboat. He’s a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump told NBC News in his first interview since firing Comey. “I was going to fire Comey. My decision,” Trump said. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
Trump told NBC News he never pressured Comey into dropping the FBI probe, adding: “If Russia did anything, I want to know that.”
Trump said there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians” but added: “The Russians did not affect the vote.”
Trump told NBC he had previously asked Comey whether he was under investigation in the Russia matter, speaking with Comey once over dinner and twice by telephone.
“I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?’” Trump told NBC. “He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’”
Comey has neither publicly discussed conversations with Trump nor has he publicly commented on his dismissal.
McCabe testified it was not typical practice to tell a person they are not a target of an investigation.
At the daily White House briefing, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether it was a conflict of interest for a president to ask the FBI chief such a question. She answered: “No, I don’t believe it is.”
Trump’s contention that he was going to fire Comey regardless of what Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the No. 2 Justice Department official Rod Rosenstein recommended conflicts with earlier explanations from the White House.
Spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that Trump acted based on the recommendation of Sessions and Rosenstein.
The Republican chairman of the Senate panel, Richard Burr, asked McCabe whether he ever heard Comey tell Trump the president was not the subject of investigation.
McCabe sidestepped the question, saying he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
In his letter firing Comey on Tuesday, Trump wrote: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
“It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely,” McCabe told the senators. He said there was no “crisis of confidence within the leadership of the FBI.”
US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to disrupt the election that included hacking into Democratic Party emails and leaking them, with the aim of helping Republican Trump.
Leaders of the US intelligence agencies, including Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and CIA chief Mike Pompeo, testified to the senators on Thursday that they agreed with that finding.
Moscow has denied any such interference and the Trump administration denies allegations of collusion with Russia.
The Trump administration has said Comey’s firing was unrelated to the Russia investigation.
The administration said on Tuesday that Comey’s firing arose from his handling of an election-year FBI probe into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
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