Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told lawmakers Thursday there has been "no effort to impede" the Russia investigation and said former FBI Director James Comey continues to have "broad support" in the agency even after the White House claimed he lost the trust of his employees.
"The work of the men and women continues despite any changes in circumstance, any decisions," McCabe told the Senate Inetlligence Committee. "So there has been no effort to impede the investigation to date. Simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing."
The political fallout from President Donald Trump's decision to fire Comey loomed heavily over the hearing in which Comey was scheduled to testify. Sen. Mark Warner, the highest-ranking Democrat on the panel, used his opening remarks to speculate if Comey's dismissal was linked to the FBI's investigation into possible ties between Trump associates and Russia.
"For many people, including myself, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the President's decision to remove Director Comey was related to this investigation. And that is unacceptable," Warner said.
McCabe is filling in for his former boss at the Senate Intelligence Community hearing on global threats. The annual hearing was scheduled well before Comey's dismissal.
The panel also included the heads of other intelligence agencies like the CIA, National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But McCabe drew the most focus as senators attempted to get more information about why Comey was relieved of his post just two days earlier.
McCabe undercut a White House perpetuated argument that Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email use hurt FBI moral and lost him the support of his employees.
"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 of my professional life to work with him," McCabe said. "I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day."
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders rebuffed McCabe's assessment at the briefing later on Thursday.
"I'm sure that there are some people that are disappointed, but I've certainly heard from a large number of individuals, and that's just myself, and I don't even know that many people in the FBI," she said.
McCabe did acknowledge that some in the bureau were "very vocal" about the handling of the email investigation, but maintained that the FBI is a diverse and independent agency.
McCabe called the Russia probe a "highly significant investigation," despite Sanders stating Wednesday that the inquiry is "one of the smallest things" the agency has on its plate.
The acting director also said he was unaware of any effort by Comey to get more resources for the effort in the days before he was fired. McCabe said he believes the investigation is "adequately resourced."
McCabe told committee chair Richard Burr that he could not comment on whether Comey had told the president he was not a target of the Russia probe. In testimony last week, the former FBI head declined to tell Congress whether Trump was a target of the investigation, saying it would create a slippery slope.
But in a different committee meeting Thursday, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley called on the FBI to clarify whether the president is being targeted.
"Now Mr. Comey is no longer the FBI director. But the FBI should still follow my advice. It should confirm to the public whether it is or is not investigating the president," Grassley said in a prepared statement for a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. "Because it has failed to make this clear, speculation has run rampant."