FBI agents ‘broadly supported’ Comey, acting director testifies, contradicting White House on firing
Trump says he planned to fire ‘showboat’ Comey regardless of what advice he received from justice officials, in contrast to official justification
Apparent contradictions over what convinced US President Donald Trump to fire FBI director James Comey have escalated, with his acting replacement telling lawmakers that Comey had enjoyed the “broad support” of his agents.
FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe’s testimony on Thursday stands in contrast to one of the reasons the White House gave for Comey’s abrupt dismissal on Tuesday.
Later on Thursday, Trump said in an NBC interview that he had planned to fire Comey regardless of what recommendations he received from the Justice Department. But on Tuesday, the White House statement announcing the firing said Trump acted “on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, speaking to reporters in a White House briefing, said Trump’s comments shouldn’t be characterised as a contradiction because Trump and Rosenstein reached the same conclusion, and repeated her assertion that she had spoken to “countless people” in the FBI who said they were unhappy with Comey’s leadership and supported Trump’s decision. Comey had lost the support of his agents, she said.
But in his testimony, McCabe voiced “the absolute highest regard” for Comey and said the departed director enjoyed broad support among rank-and-file FBI agents.
“The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey,” McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Asked whether Comey had lost the confidence of rank-and-file employees at the bureau, as the White House had asserted, McCabe said: “No, sir, that is not accurate.” He said Comey “enjoyed broad support in the bureau, and still does to this day.”
Trump fired Comey in the midst of an investigation the FBI is conducting into connections between Trump aides and Russian officials before and after the 2016 presidential election and the extent to which Russia intervened in the election.
Comey and Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have testified separately before lawmakers that Russia intervened in the election to sway the result in favour of Trump.
The timing of Comey’s dismissal has sparked allegations from most Democratic and some Republican lawmakers that Trump is trying to slow down or stop the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in US politics.
“There has been no effort to impede our investigation” of possible Russian meddling in the US 2016 election, McCabe told the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, adding that “you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.”
Sanders pointed to McCabe’s comments as evidence that Comey’s firing wasn’t an effort to interfere with the investigation into Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the election.
Citing anonymous sources, the New York Times and other media, have reported that Comey asked the US Department of Justice for more resources to continue the investigation shortly before the President fired him. Sanders denied that Comey made such a request.
Rosenstein’s recommendation, which the White House said on Tuesday formed the basis for Trump’s termination of Comey’s FBI tenure, had to do with the former director’s handling of investigations into then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email practises.
The deputy attorney general took issue with Comey’s decision to announce, in July, that the case should be closed without prosecution, which “usurped” the Attorney General’s authority.
Rosenstein also said Comey was wrong to divulge “derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation,” in an apparent reference to comments he made about Clinton in testimony to lawmakers last week.
But on Thursday, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that Rosenstein’s recommendation was not the reason Comey was fired.
“I was going to fire Comey — my decision. There is no good time to do it, by the way,” Trump told Holt. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
Trump insisted in the interview that he had already made up is mind to terminate the FBI director, whom he described in a derogatory fashion.
“He’s a showboat, he’s grand-stander, the FBI has been in turmoil,” Trump said of Comey. “You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that,” he said.
Trump also described Comey telling him on three separate occasions — once during a dinner and twice on the phone — that he was not under investigation.
Since last year, the FBI has been investigating what contacts the Russian government may have had with associates of Trump during the campaign.
“I said, if it’s possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation? He said, ‘You are not under investigation,’” Trump said.
It is highly unusual and widely considered improper for a sitting president who has authority over the FBI to ask about any ongoing investigation.
In the wide-ranging interview, Trump also insisted there was no “collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.”
Additional reporting by Tribune News Service and Associated Press