Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe testified this afternoon before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, and his testimony contained a lot of unpleasant surprises both for the Trump White House and for its critics. McCabe is hardly a shill for Team Trump; he’s a 21-year veteran of the FBI, and the only political blot on his record is that he’s currently under investigation by the FBI Inspector General for not recusing himself from the Hillary Clinton email investigation after his wife’s 2015 Virginia State Senate campaign (as a Democrat) was funded to the tune of some $700,000 by sources close to longtime Hillary bagman and current Democratic Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, who “urged McCabe’s wife to run for statewide office shortly after news reports were published that Hillary Clinton used a private email server and address for all her government business while serving as secretary of State.” The donations, made in swift succession as the email investigation heated up, were criticized by Trump himself on the campaign trail.
McCabe’s testimony included a lot of caveats about how he couldn’t comment on pending investigations or conversations that his prior boss, Jim Comey, had with President Trump. And typically, his refusal to give specifics allowed various Democratic Senators to leave unanswered innuendoes hanging in the air (like a question by Ron Wyden implying that Russians were laundering money to Trump). But he did provide some newsworthy nuggets.
ON RESOURCES FOR THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION:
Multiple media sources (the NY Times, CNN, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal) have run the same anonymously-sourced claim that Comey was fired shortly after asking for more resources for the Russia counterintelligence investigation. McCabe threw a big bucket of cold water on that:
HEINRICH [D-NM]: Thank you for your candor. Do you feel like you have the adequate resources for the existing investigations that the — that the bureau is invested in right now to – to follow them wherever they may lead?
MCCABE: Sir, if you’re referring to the Russia investigation, I do. I believe we have the adequate resources to do it and I know that we have resourced that investigation adequately. If you’re referring to the many constantly multiplying counter-intelligence threats that we face across the spectrum, they get bigger and more challenging every day and resources become an issue over time.
MCCABE: But in terms of that investigation, sir, I can — I can assure you we are covered.
COLLINS: I want to follow up on a question of resources that Senator Heinrich asked your opinion on. Press reports yesterday indicated that Director Comey requested additional resources from the Justice Department for the bureau’s ongoing investigation into Russian active measures. Are you aware that request? Can you confirm that that request was in fact made?
MCCABE: I cannot confirm that request was made. As you know ma’am, when we need resources, we make those requests here. So I — I don’t — I’m not aware of that request and it’s not consistent with my understanding of how we request additional resources.
That said, we don’t typically request resources for an individual case. And as I mentioned, I strongly believe that the Russian investigation is adequately resourced.
LANKFORD [R-OK]: You have the resources you need for the Russia investigation, is that correct?
MCCABE: Sir, we believe it’s adequately resourced…
LANKFORD: OK, so there’s not limitations on resources, you have what you need? The — the actions about Jim Comey and his release has not curtailed the investigation from the FBI, it’s still moving forward?
MCCABE: The investigation will move forward, absolutely.
LANKFORD: No agents have been removed that are the ongoing career folks that are doing the investigation?
MCCABE: No, sir.
LANKFORD: Is it your impression at this point that the FBI is unable to complete the investigation in a fair and expeditious way because of the removal of Jim Comey?
MCCABE: It is my opinion and belief that the FBI will continue to pursue this investigation vigorously and completely.
LANKFORD: Do you need somebody to take this away from you and somebody else to do?
MCCABE: No sir.
HARRIS [D-CA]: It’s been widely reported, and you’ve mentioned this, that Director Comey asked Rosenstein for additional resources. And I understand that you’re saying that you don’t believe that you need any additional resources?
MCCABE: For the Russia investigation, ma’am, I think we are adequately resourced.
HARRIS: And will you commit to this committee that if you do need resources, that you will come to us, understanding that we would make every effort to get you what you need?
MCCABE: I absolutely will.
ON WHETHER COMEY HAD LOST THE CONFIDENCE OF THE FBI:
The Trump White House has insisted that Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI, and that many agents had contacted the White House to express their relief at his dismissal. Undoubtedly, in a large organization like the FBI, with a high-profile director at the center of multiple political controversies, Comey should be expected to have some internal critics and enemies. But McCabe insisted that the Bureau was largely behind Comey:
HEINRICH: We’ve heard in the news that — that — claims that Director Comey had — had lost the confidence of rank and file FBI employees. You’ve been there for 21 years, in your opinion is it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported Director Comey?
MCCABE: No, sir, that is not accurate. I can tell you, sir, that I worked very, very closely with Director Comey. From the moment he started at the FBI I was his executive assistant director of national security at that time and I worked for him running the Washington field office. And of course I’ve served as deputy for the last year.
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 and it has been the greatest privilege and honor in my professional life to work with him. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does until this day.
We are a large organization, we are 36,500 people across this country, across this globe. 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.
MANCHIN [D-WV]: I just one question for Mr. McCabe it’s basically the morale of the agency, the FBI agency and the morale basically starting back from July 5th to July 7th, October 28th, November 6th and election day — did you all ever think you’d be embroiled in an election such as this and did — what did it do to the morale?
MCCABE: Well, I — I don’t know that anyone envisioned exactly the way these things would develop. You know, as I said earlier Senator, we are a — a large organization. We are — we have a lot of diversity of opinions and — and viewpoints on things. We are also a fiercely independent group.
MANCHIN: I’m just saying that basically, before July 5th, before the first testimony that basically Director Comey got involved in, prior to that, did you see a change in the morale? Just yes or no — yes a change or more anxious, more concern?
MCCABE: I think morale has always been good, 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 that — those concerns.
HARRIS: How do you believe we need to handle, to the extent that it exists, any crisis of confidence in the leadership of the FBI, given the firing of Director Comey?
MCCABE: I don’t believe there is a crisis of confidence in the leadership of the FBI. That’s somewhat self-serving, and I apologize for that.
ON WHITE HOUSE INTERFERENCE WITH THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION:
McCabe was having none of efforts to characterize the Trump White House as interfering with the Russia investigation, and assured the committee that the Bureau would be undeterred and that he would not be conferring further with the White House about the investigation:
WARNER [D-VA]: Mr. McCabe for as long as you are Acting FBI Director do you commit to informing this committee of any effort to interfere with the FBI’s ongoing investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign?
MCCABE: I absolutely do.
RUBIO [R-FL]: Mr. McCabe, can you without going into the specific of any individual investigation…has the dismissal of Mr. Comey in any way impeded, interrupted, stopped or negatively impacted any of the work, any investigation, or any ongoing projects at the Federal Bureau of Investigations?
MCCABE: As you know, Senator, 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 today. Quite 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.
HEINRICH: Earlier this week from the president where he writes, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” And I’m still trying to figure out why that would even make it into a dismissal letter. But let me go to something a little more direct.
Director, has anyone in the White House spoken to you directly about the Russia investigation?
MCCABE: No, sir.
HEINRICH: Let me — when — when did you last meet with the president, Director McCabe?
MCCABE: I don’t think I — I’m in…
HEINRICH: Was it earlier this week?
MCCABE: … the position to comment on that. I have met with the president this week, but I really don’t want to go into the details of that.
HEINRICH: OK. But Russia did not come up?
MCCABE: That’s correct, it did not.
COLLINS [R-ME]: Mr. McCabe, is the agent who is in charge of this very important investigation into Russian attempts to influence our election last fall still in charge?…The lead agent overseeing the investigation.
MCCABE: Certainly, almost all of the agents involved in the investigation are still in their positions.
COLLINS: So has there been any curtailment of the FBI’s activities in this important investigation since Director Comey was fired?
MCCABE: Ma’am, we don’t curtail our activities. As you know, has the — are people experiencing questions and are reacting to the developments this week? Absolutely.
COLLINS: Does that get in the way of our ability to pursue this or any other investigation?
MCCABE: No ma’am, we continue to focus on our mission and get that job done.
HARRIS: Has — I understand that you’ve said that the White House, that you have not talked with the White House about the Russia investigation. Is that correct?
MCCABE: That’s correct.
HARRIS: Have you talked with Jeff Sessions about the investigation?
MCCABE: No, ma’am.
HARRIS: Have you talked with anyone other than Rod Rosenstein at the Department of Justice about the investigation?
MCCABE: I don’t believe I have — you know, not recently; obviously, not in that — not in this position.
HARRIS: Not in the last 48 hours?
MCCABE: No, ma’am.
HARRIS: OK. What protections have been put in place to assure that the good men and women of the FBI understand that they will not be fired if they aggressively pursue this investigation?
MCCABE: Yes, ma’am. So we have very active lines of communication with the team that’s — that’s working on this issue. They are — they have some exemplary and incredibly effective leaders that they work directly for. And I am confident that those — that they understand and are confident in their position moving forward on this investigation, as my investigators, analysts and professionals staff are in everything we do every day.
HARRIS: And I agree with you. I have no question about the commitment that the men and women of the FBI have to pursue their mission. But will you commit to me that you will directly communicate in some way now that these occurrences have happened and Director Comey has been fired? Will you commit to me that given this changed circumstance, that you will find a way to directly communicate with those men and women to assure them that they will not be fired simply for aggressively pursuing this investigation?
MCCABE: Yes, ma’am.
ON WHETHER THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION IS SIGNIFICANT:
McCabe brushed back suggestions from the White House that the Russia investigation is small potatoes compared to other things the FBI is working on, although of course it’s obviously true that the FBI has a broad national investigative mandate, so any one investigation is small compared to the overall scope of the Bureau:
KING [I-ME]: Well, yesterday a White House press spokesman said that this is one of the smallest things on the plate of the FBI, is that an accurate statement?
MCCABE: It is…
KING: Is this a small investigation in relation to all — to all the other work that you’re doing?
MCCABE: Sir, we consider it to be a highly significant investigation.
KING: So you would not characterize it as one of the smallest things you’re engaged in?
MCCABE: I would not.
ON THE NATURE OF THE INVESTIGATION:
As I have discussed previously here and here, everything we know to date indicates that the FBI investigation is a counterintelligence investigation aimed at Russia, not a criminal investigation aimed at Trump (although the FBI may spin off collateral criminal probes, and seems to be headed that way with Michael Flynn). McCabe confirmed Comey’s prior testimony to that effect:
KING: …On March 20th, Director Comey — then Director Comey testified to the House of Representative, “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.
As with any counter intelligence investigation this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.” Is that statement still accurate?
MCCABE: Yes sir, it is.