Senior members of the American Intelligence Community testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday, speaking on the record about the current national security threats to the United States. The fallout of President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. director James Comey earlier this week made itself physically apparent, as Acting Director Andrew McCabe stood in his place to testify on behalf of the FBI.
McCabe joined the Director of National Intelligence and the heads of the CIA, NSA, DIA, and NGA for the annual ‘Worldwide Threats’ hearing, an opportunity to share the most pressing security concerns in the eyes of the intelligence community. As expected, the usual and persistent threats were discussed up front, particularly cyber intrusions and cyber warfare, global and domestic radical terrorism, and ‘emerging and disruptive technologies’. But the primary subject the senators wanted to discuss is the ongoing threat from Russia, and in particular their efforts to interfere with our democratic processes.
Perhaps most sensationally, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked Acting FBI Director McCabe if he plans to inform the intelligence committee if the White House makes any attempt to interfere with the FBI’s ongoing investigation of possible inappropriate connections between members of the Trump administration and Russian officials, to which McCabe responded with “I absolutely do.”
Warner seemed to suggest that Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey was possibly related to the administration’s interfering with the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump 2016 election campaign. “In light of what’s happened in the last 48 hours, its critically important that we have that assurance.”
Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), likely in an attempt to assuage concerns over the impartiality or effectiveness of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump 2016 campaign now that James Comey has been fired, asked Acting Director McCabe if he believes the FBI capable of continuing the investigation. Specifically, asking if the agents involved are now unable to continue their investigative work. McCabe said the investigation would continue despite who was directing the Bureau.
“Do you need somebody to take this away from you and somebody else to do it?” Senator Lankford asked.
“No, Sir” replied McCabe.
Perhaps as a sign of a preoccupation with the ongoing Trump investigation, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) questioned CIA Director Mike Pompeo over his “first-hand” knowledge of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warning that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail over his contact with Russian government officials during the campaign. Director Pompeo seemed to be irked by the question, and re-iterated to the Senator that the question was not technically in his lane.
“You have to remember this is a counter-intelligence investigation that was largely being conducted by the FBI and not by the CIA. We are a foreign intelligence organization.” Senator Wyden concluded their back and forth by saying they would discuss the issue further during the classified briefing later in the afternoon.
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