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Published: Thursday, May 11, 2017 @ 7:42 AM
Two days after the surprise firing of the FBI Director, the Acting FBI chief told a Senate panel that the move has not disrupted any FBI investigations, including a probe of Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, as Andrew McCabe disputed a prime White House assertion that FBI employees has lost confidence in former Director James Comey.
"Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this day," McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee, as he said the "vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey."
McCabe also labeled the Russian probe, "highly significant," further putting him at odds with a recent public characterization by the White House that the investigation should be a low priority; the President has labeled the review of any links to his campaign a "total hoax."
Earlier in the hearing, the Acting FBI Director refused to comment on President Trump's claim that he had been told he was not under investigation related to the probe of Russian actions in the 2016 U.S. elections.
"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 Investigation?" asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
"You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution," said Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
McCabe had barely been in his seat for a few minutes when the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), made clear he still doesn't buy the explanation that the firing of Comey had nothing to do with the probe of possible Russian ties to associates of Mr. Trump.
"It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the President's decision to remove Director Comey was related to this investigation," said Warner.
While the chairman of the panel, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), said the hearing on "worldwide threats" was not meant to focus on the Russia investigation, Burr used his very first question to try to shed light on the Comey firing.
"Director McCabe, did you ever hear Director Comey tell the President that he was not the subject of an investigation?" Burr asked at the outset.
"Sir, I can't comment on any conversations the Director may have had with the President," McCabe answered.
Pressed later in the hearing by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) on the matter, McCabe again refused to shed any light on President Trump's claim that Comey had told Mr. Trump three times that he was not the subject of any investigation.
"I will not comment on whether or not the Director and the President of the United States had that conversation," McCabe said.
At the hearing, the new Director of National Intelligence, former Sen. Dan Coats, provided Senators with a regular review of threats against the U.S. - that document included a section that said Russian cyber actions "will remain a major threat" to the United States.
"This aggressiveness was evident in Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 US election, and we assess that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 US election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets," the review stated.
In the hearing, Warner asked the assembled intelligence chiefs if they believed that Russian Intelligence agencies "were responsible for the hacking and leaking of information and using misinformation in order to influence our elections."
Every intelligence chief answered 'yes' to that question.