By Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian
WASHINGTON – Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe vowed Thursday that he would tell the Senate Intelligence Committee if the White House tried to interfere with the bureau’s probe of possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election – though he asserted that there had “been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”
McCabe made the assertions at a public hearing with top U.S. intelligence officials before the Senate Intelligence Committee – a hearing that has taken on new significance since Trump suddenly removed James Comey from the FBI’s top post. He also said he would not provide updates to President Trump or anyone else in the White House about the status of the probe, nor had anyone yet asked.
As the hearing continued, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top committee officials from each party, suddenly stepped out. Around the same time, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was spotted on Capitol Hill.
Rosenstein drafted the memo that Trump used as a rationale to fire Comey.
McCabe appeared in place of Comey, and Warner, the committee vice chair, asked him at the outset if he would commit to informing the committee if the White House tried to meddle in the Russia investigation.
“I absolutely do,” McCabe responded.
McCabe would go on to make several assertions that might irk Trump. He forcefully defended his former boss – who Trump had said was not doing a good job – declaring that working with Comey was “the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life.” He said that his view was widely shared in the agency.
“The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey,” McCabe said.
McCabe also rebutted White House officials’ attempts to minimize the Russia probe – declaring it a “highly significant investigation” that had not and would not be deterred.
“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 said in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
McCabe declined to comment on Trump’s assertion that Comey, while FBI director, had told him three times that he was not under investigation.
Trump had made the claim in his letter firing Comey as a sort of bizarre aside – as the rationale for removing the FBI director was purportedly not in relation to any probe that might touch the president but instead because of Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
“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,” Trump wrote.
Burr, the committee’s chair, asked McCabe: “Did you ever…