Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said Wednesday that he believes any conversations he had with his predecessor, James Comey, about President Donald Trump may fall under the purview of a special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) asked McCabe during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing whether Comey ever told him that Trump asked the former FBI director to swear loyalty to him, as the New York Times has reported. McCabe declined to answer.
“I think those [conversations] fall within the scope of issues investigated by the special counsel and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on those today,” he replied when pressed further.
“You’re not invoking executive privilege and it’s not classified,” Heinrich argued. “This is the oversight committee. Why would it not be appropriate for you to share that conversation with us?”
“I think I’ll let Director Comey speak for himself tomorrow in front of this committee,” McCabe said.
“We certainly look forward to that, but I think your unwillingness to share that conversation is an issue,” a frustrated Heinrich replied.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is overseeing the sprawling federal investigation into Russia’s election meddling, which has come to include possible collusion between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates as well as various business dealings of some former campaign staffers.
In a memo authorizing the special counsel’s appointment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein granted Mueller permission to look into “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” into Russia’s election interference—a broad mandate that would include obstruction of justice, too.
The New York Times reported that Trump privately asked Comey to end the FBI’s investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, and that Comey memorialized that request in a contemporaneous memo. Trump abruptly fired Comey in early May and said he was motivated in part by the bureau’s probe into the “Russia thing.”
Later in the Senate intelligence panel hearing, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) followed up on Heinrich’s line of questioning, saying he was “puzzled” by McCabe’s refusal to give a straight answer about what Comey may have shared with him regarding the former FBI director’s conversations with Trump.
“It would not be appropriate for me to discuss issues that are potentially within the purview of the special counsel’s investigation,” McCabe responded. After additional prodding from King, he added that he had to be “particularly careful about not stepping into the special counsel’s lane.”
Comey is expected to testify about the terms of his departure and conversations with Trump in a separate hearing before the committee on Thursday.