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FBI deputy grilled by House Intel amid concerns over bias

FBI deputy grilled by House Intel amid concerns over bias
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe arrived at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon to face a grilling from the House Intelligence Committee amid concerns among some Republicans who believe the bureau is hopelessly biased against President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Carolina Senate passes trio of election measures 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos MORE.

He testified for close to eight hours in a rescheduled interview that came amid the committee’s sprawling investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

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McCabe — who was appointed by former FBI Director James Comey in early 2016 — has long been a Republican target, thanks in part to political donations his wife received from Democratic governor and Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe (Va.).

But he skyrocketed back into the public view after a series of texts from a former member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team became public. The agent, Peter Strzok, disparaged political figures of both parties in the texts, including Trump, whom he called an “idiot.”

Both Democrats and Republicans described the interview as professional and cordial when the committee broke mid-way through the interview for House votes, but were tight-lipped on the details of McCabe’s testimony afterwards. Committee Republicans — as well as McCabe — evaded reporters when the interview broke up at 10 p.m. 

Panel Democrats largely declined to answer questions as well. Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDemocrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department House lawmakers unveil bill to end ban on Postal Service shipments of alcohol Push to combat sexual assault in military reaches turning point MORE (D-Calif.) called the meeting “productive,” but declined to speak further.

Republicans went into the interview planning to press McCabe on a host of issues, from the Strzok texts to how the FBI used a controversial, unconfirmed dossier of opposition research into then-candidate Donald Trump. Some Republicans have speculated that the bureau may have used the so-called Steele Dossier — some of which has been shown to be false — as the basis for a surveillance warrant on members of Trump’s campaign.

“Andrew McCabe cuts across every facet of every investigation in 2016 that your viewers are interested in from Secretary [Hillary] Clinton’s emails to the investigation into the Trump campaign,” Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Tuesday.

McCabe was also set to face questions on Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who Fox News reported was demoted after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose meetings with the firm that produced the Steele dossier, Fusion GPS. His wife, Nellie Ohr, worked at Fusion in the summer of 2016, according to Fox.

McCabe entered the 2 p.m. interview under a wave of speculation that he might be leaving the bureau — perhaps even dismissed — thanks to a series of conjectural remarks from Gowdy that he would be “a little bit surprised if [McCabe’s] still an employee of the FBI this time next week.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Overnight Health Care: US buying additional 200M Moderna vaccine doses | CureVac's COVID-19 vaccine failed in preliminary trial results | Grassley meets with House Dems on drug prices Grassley meets with moderate House Democrats on lowering drug prices MORE (R-Iowa) on Monday elevated that speculation by reiterating longstanding calls for FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire the career appointee.

But Gowdy retracted his remarks after several hours of interviewing, saying that McCabe had convinced him there was no grounds to suppose he was on his way out.

“I take him at his word,” Gowdy said.

As a career civil servant, McCabe is entitled to job protections and cannot be unilaterally removed as a political appointee can.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCyber concerns dominate Biden-Putin summit Senate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cybersecurity during summit with Putin MORE (D-Calif.), who left several hours before the close of the interview, said calls to fire McCabe were “irresponsible.”

Speculation over McCabe's possible departure comes amid the fallout from reports about Strzok's texts. The deputy director has become a central figure in the controversy, as he appears to be referenced in a text from Strzok that talks about an “insurance policy” against Trump winning the 2016 election.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office - that there’s no way he gets elected - but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Strzok texted on Aug. 15 of last year, including what is believed to be a reference to McCabe. “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”

Some reporting has since suggested that Strzok was urging a thorough pursuit of the agency’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, underway since July.

Gowdy, along with Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.), on Tuesday sent a letter to the Justice Department asking that it make McCabe and two other agents available to testify as early as Thursday — a possible precursor to a subpoena.

Judiciary Committee member Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHillicon Valley: Biden, Putin agree to begin work on addressing cybersecurity concerns | Senate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees | Rick Scott threatens to delay national security nominees until Biden visits border Trump, allies pressured DOJ to back election claims, documents show The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns MORE (R-Ohio) earlier on Tuesday claimed that the panel is preparing to subpoena McCabe to testify.

Gowdy also sits on the Judiciary panel, but signed the letter in his capacity as the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Goodlatte and other Republicans are calling for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate the handling of the FBI’s decisionmaking in the Clinton probe.

Republicans have long argued that Clinton received kid-glove treatment from the Obama Justice Department, and now are using reports of Strzok’s reassignment from Mueller’s team to argue that the investigation into Russia’s election meddling is a politically motivated “witch hunt” against Trump.

The president called for McCabe’s ouster in July.

“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got … big dollars $700,000 for his wife’s political run from Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Hillary Clinton: Casting doubt on 2020 election is 'doing Putin's work' Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE and her representatives,” he tweeted. “Drain the Swamp!”