The FBI investigation into alleged links between Russia and the Donald Trump election team will carry on unimpeded by the sacking of its head, James Comey, his successor has said.
Acting Director Andrew McCabe told a Senate committee his boss’s dismissal had not affected the work of the FBI.
He also said Mr Comey had “broad support” within the agency, which contradicted White House officials.
They contend Mr Comey was fired because the FBI had lost confidence in him.
The White House says his competence had come into question over the way he handled the case of Democratic Party election candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.
But critics accuse Mr Trump of sacking him for leading the Russia investigation.
“Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” Mr McCabe told the panel on Thursday.
“I can confidently tell you that the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”
He also called the Russia inquiry a “highly significant investigation”, countering the White House depiction of it as “probably one of the smallest things” that the FBI has “got going on their plate”.
Mr McCabe also vowed not to update the White House on the status of the investigation and to notify the Senate panel of any attempt to interfere with the inquiry.
There are reports the ex-FBI boss had asked for more resources to conduct the probe and Democrats in the US Senate have formally requested details from the Justice Department on any additional funding he requested.
Some Democratic senators say they believed the reports to be true, although a Justice Department spokeswoman rejected them as “totally false”.
Democrats have also called for a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation.
In other developments:
- In a farewell letter to staff, Mr Comey said he would not “spend time on the decision or the way it was executed”
- The president is “very likely” to visit the FBI headquarters in the next few days, says the White House
- FBI staff speaking to Politico have contradicted White House statements that Mr Comey had lost the faith of the agency
- Mr Comey reportedly refused to preview his Senate testimony to top Trump aides, Reuters reports
- Mr Rosenstein is reportedly meeting top members of the Senate panel including Richard Burr and Mark Warner, according to Politico
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was reportedly on the verge of resigning after the White House cast him as the prime catalyst for firing Mr Comey, US media reported.
He detailed Mr Comey’s “serious mistakes” in a memo to President Trump, just prior to the firing.
Mr Rosenstein reportedly made his threat unless the White House conveyed that the decision began with the president, according to US media.
“I’m not aware of his threatening to resign,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on ABC’s programme Good Morning America on Thursday.
She maintained that Mr Trump “very much had been thinking about letting Mr Comey go since 9 November”.
Rosenstein’s way out – Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington
Rod Rosenstein brought a reputation for even-handedness and probity with him to the job of deputy attorney general. Two weeks later, that reputation is being put to the test.
Such is life in the Trump White House, where every appointee and aide is just one tweet, event or press conference away from the maelstrom.
On Tuesday night, as the administration press shop scrambled to explain the president’s surprise decision to sack his FBI director, Trump supporters leaned hard on Mr Rosenstein’s credentials to paint the move as a nonpartisan decision based on Mr Comey’s overall job performance.
The deputy attorney general reportedly balked at the characterisation that he was the driving force behind Mr Comey’s dismissal, however.
Mr Rosenstein’s threat to resign is different than actually packing bags, of course, and his fate at this point is still tethered firmly to the president he chose to serve.
There is a way out, though. Due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal on the matter, it’s Mr Rosenstein’s call whether to appoint a special counsel to head the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. It may be the one card he can play to sidestep the growing frenzy that spins around him.
President Trump defended his actions on Wednesday, saying Mr Comey was fired “because he was not doing a good job”.
Republicans and Democrats vowed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees’ investigations into the Russia claims would continue.
The Senate Intelligence Committee moved forward by issuing a rare subpoena for documents from Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, after he rejected its request to do so in April.
Mr Flynn, a retired army lieutenant-general, misled the White House about discussing US sanctions against Russia with the country’s envoy, Sergei Kislyak, before Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.
His links to Russia are being scrutinised by the FBI and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as part of wider investigations into claims Moscow sought to tip the election in favour of Mr Trump, and into contacts between Russia and members of the president’s campaign team.
At the centre of the storm – Rod Rosenstein
- 52-year-old Harvard graduate confirmed by US Senate as Deputy Attorney General on 25 April
- Had strong bipartisan backing with 94-6 vote in his favour
- Overseeing federal investigation of alleged Russian interference in November’s elections, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recused himself over meetings with Moscow’s envoy in Washington
- Appointed by President George W Bush as US attorney in Maryland and kept on by President Barack Obama
- Reputation as apolitical and professional
- Wrote memo detailing “serious mistakes” by Mr Comey, but did not expressly call for his removal
- Threatened to resign after White House cast him as the prime mover in the firing, according to an anonymous source quoted by the Washington Post