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New acting FBI director in spotlight at Senate hearing

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday refused to comment on a claim by President Donald Trump that McCabe’s predecessor had told him he was not subject to any investigation.

McCabe was asked about the claim, that was included in a letter firing then-FBI chief James Comey, in a Senate intelligence committee hearing by the panel’s chairman, Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Burr inquired whether McCabe had ever heard Comey give such an assurance to Trump.

“Sir, I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the President,” McCabe replied.

The man who stepped into Comey’s shoes is getting a public baptism of fire. The acting FBI director is a part of a hearing testifying in place of his former boss, who had been due to appear before his dismissal.

He is seated alongside other top intelligence chiefs for a hearing on global threats to the United States and its allies but is likely to face questions, particularly from Democratic senators, about what he knows about Comey’s firing and about the integrity of the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the last year’s election and whether any of Trump’s campaign aides may have cooperated with Moscow.

McCabe was then asked by the committee’s top Democrat Mark Warner whether he would commit to inform the committee of any attempts by the administration to interfere with the Russia investigation and its efforts to find out whether there was any cooperation between Trump campaign aides and Moscow.

“I absolutely do,” McCabe replied.

Burr, a North Carolina Republican, opened the event by asking the panel’s members to focus on the original topic of the hearing — discussing “World Wide Threats” — a request Warner said would be difficult to accommodate.

“It is impossible to ignore that one of the leaders of the intelligence community is not here with us today,” the Virginia senator said in his opening remarks. “The President’s firing of FBI Director Comey Tuesday night was a shocking development. The timing of Director Comey’s dismissal to me and to many members of the committee on both sides of the aisle is especially troubling.”

McCabe took part in a private meeting with Trump at the White House on Wednesday, after deputy White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the President would talk to him about morale at the bureau following Comey’s departure.

Burr has also expressed concern about Comey’s firing.

“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination,” Burr tweeted.

“His dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee.”

Alongside McCabe at the witness table on Thursday will be Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Admiral Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency, Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Robert Cardillo, who runs the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.