Frontline FBI agents and analysts had not lost faith in fired FBI Director James Comey’s ability to lead the agency, contrary to the assertion of White House officials, the bureau’s acting director told lawmakers Thursday.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders justified President Donald Trump’s Tuesday firing of Comey during a Wednesday press briefing in part by saying “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
Acting Director Andrew McCabe disputed that characterization of his old boss during testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying he is confident “the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection” to the former director.
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“I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard,” McCabe told lawmakers. “I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity and it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him.”
Comey’s firing, which the White House officially linked to his handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, came while the FBI is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence agencies.
Trump said in his letter firing Comey the former director confirmed to him Trump is not personally a target of that investigation, though such a confirmation would be highly unusual, McCabe told senators.
The acting director also pushed back on claims the FBI suffered from low morale under Comey’s leadership, though he acknowledged some people in the bureau were “frustrated with the outcome of the Hillary Clinton case and [that] some of those folks were very vocal about those concerns.”
The FBI ranked 90th out of 305 federal agencies or agency divisions for workplace morale in a 2016 Partnership for Public Service survey and fourth out of 15 law enforcement agencies.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., invited Comey to address the panel despite his firing, but he did not attend. Both senators criticized the firing, with Burr saying it will “further confuse” the committee’s own investigation into Russia’s election meddling and possible links with the Trump campaign.
McCabe pledged the FBI investigation will continue as normal despite Comey’s absence.