Ill-prepared White House staffers have spent the better part of the week scrambling to spin a narrative of strength and decisiveness about the sudden and seemingly hurried firing of former FBI Director James Comey. One of the most recent justifications for Comey’s firing was offered by deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who filled in for Sean Spicer as he hid in the White House bushes.
“Here's the bottom line: Comey had lost the confidence across the board — from House members, from Senate members, from rank-and-file members of the FBI and the American public. When you have that happen, you can't serve in that capacity,” Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Tuesday night.
Making her rounds on cable news outlets to defend President Donald Trump’s firing of Comey, senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway made similar claims about the former FBI director’s growing unpopularity in the agency. Republican leaders in Congress even took up the White House’s line.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News' Bret Baier on Wednesday that "people had lost confidence" in Comey.
But according to new testimony from acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the White House is misrepresenting the truth. McCabe, who took over on a temporary basis after Comey’s surprising ousting on Tuesday, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Asked directly by Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., if Comey had lost the support of the “rank and file” at the FBI as the White House claimed, McCabe said, "No sir, that is not accurate."
Said McCabe: "The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey." He added, "I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does."
Acting FBI Director McCabe says it's "not accurate" that former FBI Director Comey lost the confidence of rank and file employees of the FBI pic.twitter.com/4QoCi7U5Go
— ABC News (@ABC) May 11, 2017
The new man leading the investigation into possible collusion between the president's associates and the Russian government also contradicted the White House’s claims that Comey had repeatedly notified Trump that he was not the subject of any investigation.
"It is not" the standard practice of the FBI to notify someone that he or she isn't under investigation, McCabe told Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
McCabe does not appear to be the only newly appointed Justice Department official who will provide damning testimony against the White House on Capitol Hill this week. As the new acting director was testifying on Thursday, the chairman and ranking members of the committee suddenly left, citing meeting they “can’t push off.”
The committee's chairman, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, and vice chairman, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, later confirmed to Politico that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had requested a meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rosenstein was confirmed in his post after Trump fired former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and wrote the two-page memo that served as the White House's rationale for Comey’s firing.