National Security

Watch: Live coverage of acting FBI director’s first public comments

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Just two days after the shocking ouster of his former boss, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe will step into the limelight on Thursday at a Senate hearing.

{mosads}McCabe will take James Comey’s seat at a previously scheduled Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats that will also feature the first congressional testimony of several senior Trump officials. 

President Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, igniting a political firestorm given the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election. 

Newly minted CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will also appear, alongside National Security Agency head Adm. Michael Rogers. 

Follow along for The Hill’s live coverage here.

Committee adjourns

12:33 p.m. 

The committee adjourned its open session. They are expected to meet in closed session with the witnesses later in the afternoon. 

King asks Cyber Command head to “poke” administration about cyber doctrine

12:24 p.m.

A common complaint from the Senate is that the administration – both Obama and Trump – has no formal cyber doctrine, but rather a series of ad hoc decisions about what to do each time the U.S. is attacked.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) asked NSA and Cyber Command Director Rogers to use his position to “poke” President Trump and encourage a formal strategy. 

Wyden asks for number of Americans swept up in incidental collection

12:22 p.m. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pressed Coats for the number of Americans swept up in incidental collection through the application of foreign intelligence law. 

Wyden expressed frustration over the matter, saying that the number would be necessary to the debate over Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a provision which is up for reauthorization at the end of the year. 

“We have to have that number,” Wyden said. “Are we going to get it?”

Coats said that efforts are “underway” to set up a time to get into the issue with the committee, as early as June. He said that he has met with Rogers to better understand the “complexity” of achieving that number. 

“I cannot give you a date and a number,” Coats said. 

Wyden seemed skeptical of his answer, noting that privacy experts and technologists insist that an exact count can be achieved. Section 702 allows the NSA to collect intelligence on foreign targets without a warrant. 

McCabe: Confident that Comey’s files are secure. 

12:11 p.m.

McCabe answers that Comey’s files were secured after he was fired, despite Comey being on the West Coast when official word came down. 

Leaders step out abruptly

12:10 p.m.

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting abruptly stepped out of a long-scheduled hearing on worldwide threats for what appeared to be a hastily-scheduled meeting with deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. 

Rosenstein was seen walking into the committee’s meeting space Thursday morning, according to Politico — just moments before Burr unexpectedly handed off the gavel to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). 

He and Warner had a meeting “we can’t push off,” he told the panel, which includes FBI acting director Andrew McCabe. 

McCabe was providing testimony in lieu of James B. Comey, who was fired on Tuesday — according to the White House, based on a recommendation by Rosenstein. 

“The inmates are running the asylum!” crowed Cotton, taking the gavel as Burr and Warner slipped out of the back of the hearing room. 

McCabe: Some in FBI ‘frustrated’ over Clinton email probe

12:05 p.m. 

McCabe said that there were officials within the FBI who were “frustrated” with the outcome of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email. 

The acting FBI director made the comments in response to questioning from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who asked about morale at the agency. 

“We are a large organization, we have a lot of diversity of opinions and viewpoints on things, we are also a fiercely independent group,” McCabe said.

When pressed on whether there had been a change in morale, McCabe said that morale had always been high, but noted “frustrations” over the Clinton email probe.

“I think morale has always been good, however there were folks within our agency who were frustrated with the outcome of the Hillary Clinton case and some of those folks were very vocal about those concerns,” McCabe said.

Earlier, McCabe mentioned that the Comey firing had affected morale.  

Panel is concerned about Kaspersky Labs as a real threat. 

12:00 p.m.

“I am personally aware and involved” with the threat, said Rogers. 

The FBI is “focused on in closely,” said McCabe. 

DNI not consulted in FBI director firing

11:49 a.m.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that he was not consulted in the firing of FBI Director James Comey. 

Coats responded to questioning from Sen. Angus King (I-Me.) that he was not a part of discussions about the decision to fire Comey, which the White House announced on Tuesday afternoon. 

“There were no discussions,” Coats said. 

McCabe: Unaware of requests for resources. 

11:45 a.m.

McCabe said he is unaware of any request for more resources in the Russian investigation, contradicting reports Comey requested more resources from the Department of Justice. 

McCabe said the FBI neither traditionally requests resources from the DOJ, nor requests resources from specific agents. 

“Ma’am, we don’t curtail our investigations”

11:43 a.m.

McCabe answers “almost all of the agents” from the Russia investigation under Comey are still on the investigation when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) asks about continuity. Collins then asks if any attempts have been made to curtail the investigation.

“Ma’am, we don’t curtail our investigations,” he said.

McCabe contradicts White House

11:32 a.m.

McCabe directly contradicted a White House claim that Comey had lost the support of the “rank and file” at the FBI.

“That is not accurate,” McCabe said, in perhaps his most comprehensive answer yet.

“Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and stil does to this day,” he said, calling it the “greatest privilege” of his professional career to work with Comey.

“I can confidently tell you that the vast majority of [FBI] employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”

Trump a ‘voracious consumer’ of intelligence 

11:30 a.m.

Answering a question about how the president is doing in regards to intelligence matters, Coats says he has been pleasantly surprised. 

“Director Pompeo and I can certify we have spent far more hours in the Oval Office than we anticipated. The president is a voracious consumer of information, in asking questions and asking us to provide information.”

North Korea

11:08 a.m.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said she believes North Korea is the greatest threat to the country and asks if the panel agrees and what is being done to hinder the country. 

Coats replies that North Korea is a “Very significant, potentially existential” threat. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said “the Chinese have made efforts they have not made before” using trade – including restricting coal, but can do more.

Russians continue to use active measures

11:01 a.m.

The panel agrees that Russia is continuing to use active measures, including hacking and social media manipulation. They also agree that Russia has always been a threat in this matter, though cyber offensives have made things worse.

“There’s nothing new, only the cost has been lowered,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Coats adds that the social media has made everything work.

No interference

11:01 a.m. 

In response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio, McCabe says there has been no interference with the Russia investigation. 

“You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” he said.

Rubio asks about Kaspersky Lab

10:58 a.m.

Sen. Rubio (R-Fl.) asks the panel if any of them would use software from the Russian-based, international cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. The panel gives straight nos. 

Recent reports claim that Senate Intel has taken an interest in the companies ties with the Russian government, which the company denies. In fact, as the hearing begins, Eugene Kaspersky is hosting an AMA on Reddit, wherein he has denied the accusations. 

McCabe ringing affirmative

10:52 a.m.

McCabe gave an unequivocal answer when asked by Warner if he will inform the panel of any political interference or pressure on the bureau’s probe into Russian interference: 

“I absolutely do,” he said. 

No comment!

10:48 a.m.

Burr got right to the point with his first question to McCabe: Did you ever hear Comey tell the president he was not the subject of an investigation?

“I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president,” McCabe said, and Burr moved on immediately.

The president in his dismissal letter to Comey said that he “appreciated” that the former director had told him “on three separate occasions” that he was not under investigation.

First testimony for DNI Coats

10:41 a.m.

Eyes visibly glazed during Coats’ first congressional testimony, a wide-ranging assessment of global threats that was tailored to the stated agenda of the hearing.

He made a brief plug for the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), due to sunset at the end of the year.  

His was the only opening statement. 

…Warner is not on board

10:22 a.m.

Ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) went precisely the opposite direction, immediately ending any speculation that Burr would have his way.

“It is impossible to ignore that one of the leaders of the intelligence community is not here with us today,” he said right off the bat, arguing that it is “hard to avoid the conclusion” that the president’s decision to fire Comey was related to the bureau’s investigation into Trump campaign associates.

He signaled that he would begin his round of questioning by asking McCabe to affirm that if he comes under any political pressure from the White House to quash that investigation, he will inform the committee.

“Let me disappoint everybody up front.” 

10:12 a.m.

Chair Richard Burr (N.C.) starts the hearing by addressing those who turned in to watch debate on the Russia investigation. 

“Let me disappoint everybody upfront,” he said, before listing a bevy of other issues that they might discuss, including the South Korean elections and general cybersecurtiy issues.

McCabe in the spotlight on Russia probe

9:45 a.m.

McCabe is now the man effectively in charge of the bureau’s investigation, which includes whether any Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russia to swing the 2016 election — something the Senate panel is also investigating. 

His appearance comes less than 24 hours after the intel committee issued a subpoena to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, demanding documents related to that probe.  

Tags Angus King Dan Coats Dianne Feinstein Hillary Clinton Joe Manchin Marco Rubio Mark Warner Richard Burr Ron Wyden Susan Collins Tom Cotton
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