The acting FBI director may promise that the investigation into Trump-Russia connections will continue. Many agents aren’t buying it.
On Tuesday night after James Comey got fired, FBI agents tasked with thwarting Russian intelligence operations started drinking.
Two well-connected former FBI employees told The Daily Beast that counterintelligence agents working on Russia desk based at FBI headquarters in downtown Washington met for drinks in the hours after their boss’s firing and shared their concerns: that they would be moved to another division, and that their work on the Russia issue wouldn’t be a priority anymore.
These are worries that have spread through the bureau in the days since Comey was fired: that the new administration will find ways to stymie investigations that could create political problems——especially on Russia. It’s a concern the president himself exacerbated in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that aired Thursday evening.
“And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,’” the president said, discussing his reasoning for firing Comey.
Among current and former agents who worked on Russian counterintelligence, concern about political meddling is palpable.
“It’s complete bananas,” said one FBI source. “Management in counterintelligence are insanely concerned, worried about the overreaching obstruction and political influence from the White House.”
And a former high-ranking FBI official who worked on aspects of the case said there’s “no doubt the investigation can be damaged.”
“This particular case is within HQ with pieces in other field offices,” the source continued. “Hard to stop, but definitely subvert.”
The pace of the FBI’s Russian counterintelligence effort dramatically picked in recent weeks when the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn expanded to include his company’s work for the Turkish government, and a round of subpoenas were issued by a Virginia grand jury for related business and financial records. This stems from reports out of Turkey that Flynn had at some point attempted to return money he was paid for work he didn’t end up doing. That gave investigators a money trail to follow. Flynn reportedly failed to disclose this income when he was employed by the White House.
Two sources suggested that aspects of the larger investigation are focused on whether foreign influence was or is currently being exerted at the White House. It is unclear if this is specifically related to Flynn, or other aspects or targets of the case.
“It is not just a historical investigation,” said one former intelligence official who worked aspects of the early stages of the investigation.
Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s interim director, told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning that nothing would stop the investigation. But his confidence didn’t calm many nerves, in large part because there’s a broad consensus in Washington that his days at the bureau are numbered. In that same hearing, McCabe praised Comey and directly contradicted a White House spokesperson’s assertion that the FBI rank-and-file had turned on their former boss.