The FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee swear their investigations into Russian election interference will continue—even though President Donald Trump just sacked James Comey, the man central to both probes.
The FBI’s investigation into Trump-Russia ties is now under increased scrutiny after the president fired the director of the bureau actively investigating his presidential campaign.
Trump’s move also affects the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the same topic, because now-fired FBI Director James Comey was reportedly regularly liaising with the committee’s probe and providing it with FBI materials for review.
Both sought to steady the ship after a tumultuous week.
“Regardless of what happens by the Justice Department or by the FBI, the investigation that’s done by the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue on its current course, as aggressively as we’re able to,” Sen. Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters.
Burr added that the FBI under Comey had been very cooperative, and stressed the importance of the continuation of this cooperation.
The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that they met privately Thursday with the deputy attorney general to discuss ways in which the FBI and the committee could ensure their probes were not conflicting with one another.
“We’ve had unprecedented access to information [with the FBI], unprecedented access to interviews that to date we have not been denied. Sometimes we’ve had some very crucial negotiations to get to folks that we felt we needed to talk to. … The level of cooperation existed,” Burr told The Daily Beast. “And that’s why meeting with the deputy [attorney general] today was important. Because that keeps our pathway open.”
Earlier this week, the chairman told The Daily Beast that his committee had already completed a substantial portion of interviews with the FBI that were necessary for its probe.
“A majority of interviews with people within the FBI, we've already done,” Burr said on Wednesday. “I'm very confident we can get to the bottom of it, but we've got to be given the time and the access to interview the right people, to look at any additional documents we might need.”
Meanwhile, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe sought to reassure lawmakers and the general public that the FBI investigation into possible Trump-Russia ties during the 2016 presidential election would go on unhindered.
“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,” McCabe said, while being grilled during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday. “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.”
McCabe shot down reports that emerged Wednesday suggesting that Comey’s firing came after he asked for more resources for the Russia investigation.
“I’m not aware of that request,” McCabe told lawmakers. “We don’t typically request resources for an individual case. … I strongly believe that the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.”
Trump abruptly fired Comey on Tuesday, allegedly upon the recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who criticized Comey for his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
But the president himself undercut his own administration’s reasoning for the dismissal, telling NBC’s Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey “regardless of [the] recommendation.”
McCabe was added to the hearing as a witness at the last minute; Comey was initially scheduled to testify and was expected to give an update on the Russia probe. Instead, McCabe, who served as deputy FBI director under Comey, assured lawmakers that the investigation is going on as planned, and pushed back against several claims made in the aftermath of Comey’s dismissal.
He said there have been no efforts to scale back the bureau’s probe, adding that “all of the agents involved in the investigation are still in their positions.” McCabe said he would alert the committee if he sensed any politically-motivated efforts to stonewall.
After House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes recused himself from heading his panel’s Russia probe amid an ethics investigation into his handling of classified information, there was hope that the Senate Intelligence Committee could carry out its Russia investigation faithfully.
That was eroded when it was revealed last month that the committee had not begun substantially investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. The Daily Beast first reported that the committee lacked necessary staffing and investigative experience to carry out their probe.
In Thursday’s hearing, the nation’s top national security officials all contradicted the president in their testimony when they said they agree with the intelligence community’s January assessment about the role Russia played in meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has labeled the “Russia talk” as “fake news” propagated by Democrats and the press.
McCabe also pushed back against numerous White House claims, including the suggestion that Comey had lost the confidence of rank-and-file FBI agents.
“Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day,” McCabe said when questioned by a senator. “We have a diversity of opinions about many things. But I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority, of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”
He also pushed back on Trump’s claim that Comey informed the president that he was not the subject of the investigation.
“Would it 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?” Sen. Susan Collins asked.
“I’m not aware of that being a standard practice,” McCabe said, declining to comment on the specific claim about Trump’s conversations with Comey. In a later response to Sen. Ron Wyden, McCabe pledged that he would not update the president on matters relating to the investigation.
In another contradiction with the White House’s narrative, McCabe said the Russia investigation is “highly significant,” declining to state exactly how many agents are assigned to the probe. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders in contrast called it “probably one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate.”