WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans cracked down on unproven allegations of corruption and bias in the FBI on Tuesday, attacking former acting bureau chief Andrew G. McCabe in a controversial judicial committee hearing.
The hearing, led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of President Trump, was a narrative of the perceived injustices the president and his supporters amplified during the investigation into Trump’s campaign links to 2016 with Russia. They included botched wiretapping requests from former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, the treatment of former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and a notorious dossier on alleged Trump-Russia ties.
Texas Senator John Cornyn accused the FBI of being a “thug,” while Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn said the office had a “culture of corruption and cover-up.” Missouri Senator Josh Hawley called the investigation “the biggest scandal in FBI history”
Mr McCabe has repeatedly rejected Republicans’ claims that the FBI’s actions were politically motivated.
“Let me be very clear: we didn’t open a case because we liked one candidate or we didn’t like the other,” he said in his opening speech. “We didn’t open a case because we intended to stage a coup or to overthrow the government.”
Mr McCabe, who testified remotely because of the pandemic, admitted serious errors by the FBI in Page’s wiretapping applications, of which he signed one. He said he wouldn’t have approved of it knowing what he’s learned since. “We are all responsible for the work that has been done in this FISA,” McCabe said, referring to requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Review Act.
A report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General released last December revealed glaring errors and omissions in Mr. Page’s wiretap requests in the months following his departure from the Trump campaign, on the basis of the suspicions of investigators about its links with Russia.
Republicans insisted on Mr. McCabe who in the FBI was responsible for the problems. They wrongly insisted that no one was held responsible; the Inspector General’s report attributed the blame, naming a designated FBI agent “primarily responsible for some of the most significant errors and omissions.”
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said senior-level employees who played a role in the page’s wiretap requests were referred to the bureau’s professional liability office, its disciplinary arm.
The Inspector General’s report also concluded that the FBI had sufficient reason to initiate the Russia investigation and that investigators acted without political bias in doing so.
Democrats on the committee made it clear they had little patience for Mr Graham’s investigation, believing it to be a waste of time as they accused Attorney General William P. Barr of politicizing the Justice Department .
“This is a desperate and last resort to deal with President Trump’s grievances about this election,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, accusing the Republican-led committee to hold another “partisan hearing to advance President Trump’s theories.” “
Before the hearing began, Mr. Trump was targeting Mr. McCabe, a frequent target. “Republicans, don’t let Andrew McCabe continue to get away with totally criminal activity,” President written on twitter. “What he did should never be able to happen to our country again. FIGHT FOR JUSTICE! “
During the hearing, Mr. Graham repeatedly accused the FBI of treating Mr. Trump unfairly, saying he should have been warned about Russia’s attempts to intervene in the 2016 election in her name.
Mr Graham pointed to a recently declassified, unverified information document which suggested that Russian intelligence had acquired information that Hillary Clinton had approved a plan for her 2016 campaign to ‘sow scandal’ against Mr Trump by linking it to Russian hackers who had broken into Democratic servers.
Although Mr. Trump’s allies have been promoting the document, other officials have dismissed his information after evaluating it, including Special Advocate Robert S. Mueller III and the Senate Intelligence Committee led by them. republicans.
Mr McCabe said he had never seen the document before and it was not clear to him that the information hinted at criminal behavior.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and former federal prosecutor, defended the FBI for failing to investigate the complaint, noting that even information related to a possible Clinton campaign strategy did not constitute a crime but rather a policy typical.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz also referred to reports that advisers to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke to foreign officials and compared them to the FBI’s scrutiny of Mr. Flynn in connection with of his December 2016 appeals with Russia. ambassador during Mr. Trump’s transition.
Mr Cruz asked whether Mr Biden and his team violated the Logan Act, a law of 1799 that says it is a crime for a private citizen to interfere with diplomatic relations between the United States and governments foreigners. Mr Cruz ultimately pointed out that the Logan Law was widely viewed as unconstitutional, claiming that Mr Biden was therefore not violating it but that it was illegitimate to “go after” Mr Flynn for the same.
In a heated exchange with Mr Cruz, who interrupted him on several occasions, Mr McCabe said that “there had been no discussions on the Logan Law” concerning Mr Flynn, which resulted in leads Mr. Cruz to suggest that he might commit perjury. But allowed to complete his response, Mr McCabe clarified that agents opened the counterintelligence investigation on Mr Flynn on the basis of something else – a suspicion he could be a campaign intermediary. and Russia.
Notes released as part of the Justice Department’s attempt to drop the charges against Mr. Flynn, despite his guilty plea of lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, showed that there had been discussions about the Logan Act in 2017.
In addition, on Tuesday, a federal judge unsealed a series of search warrants in the Flynn case in response to a media request. They showed that in September 2017, when Mr. Mueller’s office and office requested access to Trump transition devices and email accounts, they cited the Logan Act and misrepresentation to a judge.
“The FBI is investigating whether Flynn corresponded with foreign government officials without US authority, with the intent to influence the conduct of foreign governments, in violation of the Logan Act, and whether Flynn did materially false statements and omitted material facts. to the FBI regarding its communications with these foreign government officials, ”he said.
At the end of the hearing. Mr. Graham brushed aside complaints from Democrats that his investigation was pointless. “We will continue to dig,” he said.
Charlie Savage contributed reporting.