Credit: U.S. Capitol
Updated: 11:00 a.m. ET
Before President Trump fired James Comey on Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee already had planned one of its regular oversight hearings where the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community check in with the panel.
Now committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., are questioning Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who took over the top law enforcement agency just two days ago, and Comey’s absence and whether or not he was fired because of the growing investigation into Russian involvement in the election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign cast a large shadow over the normally routine hearing.
Also joining McCabe are: Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, CIA Director Michael Pompeo, NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers and the heads of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
While Trump has continued to cast doubt on the intelligence community’s findings that Russia did seek to influence the U.S. elections to benefit his campaign, the intelligence leaders were unanimous in their assessment that Russia had indeed interfered with the election.
Coats was unequivocal in his conclusion that there was meddling in his written testimony submitted to the committee:
Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture. 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.
Burr made clear in his opening statement that he wanted the hearing to be about more than just Russia and reiterated there are other global threats of concern, too.
But in his first question to McCabe, Burr asked the acting FBI director about one of the more puzzling and surprising statements in Trump’s termination letter to Comey — that the law enforcement chief told the president on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation in regards to Russia.
“Sir, I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president,” McCabe responded.
In his own opening statement, Warner underscored that Comey’s absence was atop his mind and that he had plenty of questions for McCabe and the other intel leaders.
“It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the president’s decision to remove Director Comey was related to the Russia investigation,” Warner said, “and that is truly unacceptable.”Share