One of the reasons the White House gave for firing FBI Director James Comey was that “most importantly, rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.” That’s what White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday.
But this statement faced a sharp rebuke from Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who said Thursday when he testified before Congress, “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does until this day.”
McCabe said that while morale “has always been good … there were folks within our agency who were frustrated with the outcome of the Hillary Clinton case,” and were vocal about that.
“We have a diversity of opinions about many things, but I can confidently tell you that the majority — the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey,” McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Shortly after McCabe’s hearing on Capitol Hill, Huckabee Sanders had to explain how the White House had reached such a different conclusion about how FBI employees viewed their boss.
Her evidence: her “own personal experience.” She said she’d “heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.”
Later she said she had “heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they’re very happy with the president’s decision.”
At the same White House briefing, Huckabee Sanders said, “I don’t even know that many people in the FBI.”
Whether or not Huckabee Sanders heard from enough people to make this anecdote meaningful (putting aside the fact that the public is supposed to take her word for it that a representative sample of FBI employees got in touch with her and actually said what she claims) completely misses the point. Huckabee Sanders is pointing to information she received after Comey was fired, not before.
According to the White House, it believed the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in Comey before he was fired–so much so that it was one of the most important reasons for his firing. On Thursday, the best Huckabee Sanders could do was make reference to emails and text messages she says she personally received after the president fired him. But she, nor anyone else in the White House, has provided any evidence that shows the White House sought and received reliable data about the Bureau before President Donald Trump decided to fire him. The memos from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein say nothing about morale problems.
Meanwhile, this wasn’t the only time McCabe rebuked the official line out of the White House.
On Wednesday, Huckabee Sanders described the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump associates coordinated with the Russian efforts to change the outcome of the 2016 election as, “probably one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate.”
When asked to describe how he’d characterize the investigation, McCabe said, “We consider it to be a highly significant investigation.” It is now widely reported that one of the reasons Trump grew frustrated with Comey was due to the attention he was giving to the Russian investigation instead of other matters.