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Andrew McCabe defends Trump campaign Russia probe during partisan hearing

Former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about the 2016 Russia probe. He defended the decision to open the investigation, while acknowledging errors in requesting wiretap warrants for former Trump campaign aide Carter Page

"We didn't open a case because we liked one candidate or didn't like the other one... We opened a case to find out how the Russians might be undermining our elections. We opened a case because it was our obligation — our duty — to do so. We did our job," McCabe said during his opening statement. 

He also said in his opening remarks that he is "shocked and disappointed" with errors made in applications by the FBI to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court requesting the Page wiretap warrants.

"Any material misrepresentation or error in a FISA application is unacceptable. Period," McCabe said Tuesday. "The FBI should be held to the standard of 'scrupulous accuracy' that the court demands. FISA remains one of the most important tools in our country's efforts to protect national security. The FBI is the custodian of that tool."

The FBI obtained a warrant in 2016 to eavesdrop on Page on suspicions that he was secretly a Russian agent. The Justice Department renewed the Page warrant three times, including during the early months of the Trump administration. The DOJ concluded in January that it should have ended its surveillance earlier because of "insufficient predication" to continue the surveillance.

McCabe said at the hearing that he "fully support(s) every effort to ensure that the FBI's use of FISA maintains the high standards the court, and the American people, demand and deserve."

Senator Lindsey Graham, who presided over the hearing, and his fellow Republican committee members repeatedly claimed on Tuesday that the former acting FBI director intentionally mislead the surveillance court. McCabe refuted that characterizations of the FBI's actions, and said it would have been a "dereliction of duty" for the agency not to open the investigation given that Russian intelligence services targeting American political institutions were potentially working with members of the Trump campaign. He also noted that the FBI's concerns were later "proven true" by the Mueller Report, which found that multiple Trump campaign officials, including Carter Page, had contacts with Russians. 

The committee also probed whether McCabe knew the source for the so-called Steele "dossier" was discredited but still used it to secure the initial warrant and three renewals. McCabe has denied having ever told Congress that the warrant would not have been sought without information from the dossier. He called that claim a "fundamental misrepresentation" of what he had said privately to the committee. Graham said, based on what is public, and what he knows privately, he "doesn't see how" federal prosecutor John Durham, who is leading the DOJ's investigation, could not indict.

In admitting errors in the investigation's process — not its motivation — McCabe stressed to the committee that the focus should now be on preventing those errors from happening again. Graham agreed in part; "That's the purpose of the hearing, find answers to why the system failed," he said, adding, "We're going to find somebody accountable for something."

McCabe authorized the FBI investigation into President Trump's ties to Russia after the president fired former FBI Director James Comey, making him a recurring target of Mr. Trump and his allies. He himself was fired in March 2018 and has claimed in a lawsuit that his ouster was in "retaliation" for opening the investigation.

During a heated exchange with Senator Marsha Blackburn on Tuesday, McCabe said "I've now been a subject of a baseless investigation for two years and I know I didn't do any crimes in the FBI and yes, I feel I was fired for not good reason." 

Several Democratic lawmakers noted that Tuesday's hearing, originally scheduled to take place before the 2020 presidential election, is the fourth by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois agreed that Carter Page was treated unfairly, but asked the committee: "How many more times do we have to say it?"

"This is the fourth hearing we're having going over this well-plowed ground," Durbin said. He suggested that the body instead focus on "pertinent" issues, such as the 545 children who were separated from their families by U.S. immigration authorities at the southern border and have not yet been reunited. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar also noted that the hearing was originally set to take place before Election Day, and she asked him if the most recent election showed any improvements in how the U.S. handles foreign interference in the political process. McCabe said it appeared that the changes made in response to 2016 were "time and effort well spent." He warned, however, that the "calm of the 2020 election" does not mean Russian interference is no longer a threat to American democracy. 

"The Russians were successful beyond their wildest imagination in accomplishing their goals in 2016," McCabe said. "Their successes serve as encouragement to other hostile nations intent on undermining our security, safety and stability. Simply put, the Russians, and others, will be back."

He also stressed that, while foreign terrorists appear to be in a state of "less organization," the United States' "most serious concern right now" is domestic terrorism. "The domestic terrorism scene has not tailed off, but risen" in recent years, he said.

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