Former acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe says top congressional leaders did not object in 2017 when he told them that the law enforcement agency had opened a counterintelligence investigation of President Donald Trump on the suspicion that he might have ties to Russia.
McCabe told NBC on Tuesday that he informed eight key lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and then House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican lawmakers at the time, shortly after he opened the probe almost two years ago.
"No one objected," McCabe said. "Not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds and not based on the facts."
Days before, Trump had fired James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who then was leading the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible Trump campaign links to Moscow. Soon, Trump said he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he ousted Comey and boasted at a White House meeting with Russian officials that he had relieved "great pressure" on himself by dismissing Comey.
Trump suggested Monday that McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein engaged in "treasonous" activity when they considered invoking a constitutional amendment in 2017 to remove him from office while opening obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations against him.
McCabe told CBS, in an interview aired Sunday, that a "crime may have been committed" when Trump fired Comey. McCabe, himself later fired after 21 years at the FBI, said, "And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia's malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, 'Why would a president of the United States do that?'"
Trump is continuing to lash out at McCabe, saying on Twitter late Monday, "Remember this, Andrew McCabe didn’t go to the bathroom without the approval of Leakin’ James Comey!"
McCabe, whose new book about his time at the FBI and the Trump investigation was published Tuesday, told CBS that the confluence of events surrounding Trump caused the FBI "to wonder is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?"
McCabe said Rosenstein, who is leaving the Justice Department next month, was "absolutely" onboard with the obstruction and counterintelligence investigations of Trump. Nothing came of the discussions about invoking the constitutional amendment.
Days after Comey's firing, Rosenstein named Robert Mueller, himself a former FBI director, as special counsel to take over the Russia investigation. Rosenstein had assumed control of the Russia investigation because then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had removed himself from oversight because of his own discussions during the election campaign with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's former ambassador to the U.S. Sessions' recusal from oversight of the probe eventually led Trump to fire him last year.
"Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe," Trump said Monday on Twitter. "He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged. He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught."
Trump added, "There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous "insurance policy" in full action!"
McCabe was fired last year by Sessions, a day short of gaining full retirement benefits. The Justice Department said he was dismissed because he misled investigators during an internal probe of a disclosure about an investigation to the Wall Street Journal, a claim McCabe rejected.
"I believe I was fired because I opened a case against the president of the United States," he said.
Mueller is 21 months into his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Trump campaign links to Russia and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.
He has won convictions for various offenses against five key officials in Trump's orbit, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos and former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, while indicting longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia during the campaign or that he obstructed justice.