About that White House claim that the FBI rank-and-file had lost faith in James Comey ...

Story highlights

  • Andrew McCabe's comments were far more about him defending a friend
  • Sticking up for Comey is actually the least politically expedient thing that McCabe could do

Washington (CNN)One of the main reasons that President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday night was because the rank-and-file workers at the bureau simply didn't like Comey and, more importantly, didn't feel like they could trust him.

That was the line of argument coming from the White House on Wednesday via deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
"The President, over the last several months, lost confidence in Director Comey," she said at the daily press briefing. "The DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And, most importantly, the rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director."
Then, later, she added: "We've heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things. In fact, the President will be meeting with acting Director (Andrew) McCabe later today to discuss that very thing -- the morale at the FBI -- as well as make an offer to go directly to the FBI if he feels that that's necessary and appropriate."
During an interview with NBC on Thursday, Trump doubled down on the idea that Comey wasn't liked within the FBI. "He's a show boat, he's a grand stander, the FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that," Trump told Lester Holt.
I'm not sure how that discussion of morale at the FBI went between Trump and McCabe. But at a Senate intelligence committee hearing Thursday, McCabe directly contradicted the White House account of how Comey was regarded within the FBI.
"Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does today," McCabe told senators. "We have a diversity of opinions about many things but I can confidently tell you the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey." He later added: "I don't believe there was a crisis of confidence in the FBI."
McCabe: Comey has broad support within FBI
McCabe: Comey has broad support within FBI

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McCabe: Comey has broad support within FBI 01:36
So, well, OK.
To take the Trump side of this for a minute: What was McCabe supposed to say? That people hated Comey? McCabe served as Comey's second-in-command and had been one of his closest advisers for years.
Sure.
But I think McCabe's comments were far more about him defending a friend who he -- and lots of people at the bureau -- believe has been treated poorly by the President and his senior advisers.
In fact, you can argue that sticking up for Comey is actually the least politically expedient thing that McCabe could do. If he wants to take away "acting" from his title -- and McCabe is one of the names floated as a possible Comey successor -- it would be in his interest to tell Trump, who you know was watching, that Comey was despised within the agency and that people are thrilled he is gone.
McCabe didn't do that. And by not doing it, he knocked down another of the foundational pillars of the White House's ever-evolving explanation as to why, exactly, Comey was fired.
If Comey hadn't really lost the trust and confidence of the FBI and this wasn't really about Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation and it wasn't focused on Comey going around the chain of command or doing a bad job, then what was it about?
The answer, of course, is right in front of your face: It was about Donald Trump. Trump didn't like how Comey acted as though he had swayed the 2016 election away from Clinton. He didn't like that Comey kept pushing the Russian meddling investigation rather than focusing on the leaks coming out of the intelligence world. He didn't like that Comey didn't have his back on his unproven claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower during the 2016 election.
Trump just plain didn't like Comey. That's probably why he got rid of him. As McCabe's testimony Thursday makes clear, the idea that Trump's view on Comey was widely held within the bureau is simply wrong.