By Katie Bo Williams - 05-11-17 11:47 AM EDT
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday directly contradicted a claim by the White House that the "rank and file" at the FBI had lost faith in recently fired Director James Comey.
"Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day," McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee, calling it the "greatest privilege" of his professional career to work with Comey.
"I can confidently tell you that the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey," he added, calling it "not accurate" to say otherwise.
The news of Comey's dismissal Tuesday was a shock to agents at the bureau, where many former and current officials say he enjoyed broad support - even among those who disagreed with his decisions in the Hillary Clinton email case.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday claimed that "the rank-and-file" agents had lost confidence in Comey, an assessment that was met with raised eyebrows in Washington.
Although he was deeply controversial at times, Comey was a staunch defender of FBI staff. Perhaps the only time he became heated when testifying before Congress was when the integrity of the bureau was questioned.
"You can call us wrong, but don't call us weasels. We are not weasels," Comey declared at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in September.
McCabe during his testimony also contradicted the White House on the seriousness of the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said the Russia probe is one of "the smallest things" the FBI has "going on their plate."
"Sir, we consider it to be a highly significant investigation," McCabe told Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), when asked about the White House's comment.
McCabe also vowed that he will not communicate with the White House about the Russia investigation. Comey last month revealed that probe includes a review of potential contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
McCabe in his testimony sought to reassure lawmakers that the investigation was appropriately resourced and was proceeding apace independent of any political influence from the White House.
"There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date," he said.
He further promised that he would inform the committee if there is any attempt to interfere with the probe in the future.
- Updated at 1 p.m.