WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s defenders are brushing off reports that he asked his acting FBI director how he voted in the presidential election as simply Trump’s way of “getting to know people.”
Trump, who has taken repeated steps to undermine the independence of the FBI, asked the bureau’s acting head, Andrew McCabe, whom he voted for in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. The question, which Trump reportedly posed shortly after firing FBI Director James Comey in May, would put a non-political law enforcement leader in an awkward position. McCabe responded that he did not vote, the paper reported, citing unnamed current and former administration officials, and later said he found the conversation “disturbing.”
Asked whether Trump acted inappropriately, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel on Wednesday dismissed the conversation as normal small talk that came up during an introductory meeting.
“I think it is just a conversation. I don’t think it intends of, you know, all of these terrible things that people are trying to put forward,” McDaniel said on CNN’s “New Day.” “I ask people who they vote for sometimes. I think it’s trying to get to know somebody. This is a president who is just getting to know people, and that’s part of those conversations.”
A White House official told The New York Times that Trump’s question “was in the context of first asking about Mr. McCabe’s family.”
McCabe, who stepped into the FBI acting director job after Trump abruptly fired Comey amid the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, has long been a target of Republican attempts to undermine the probe.
Trump and his allies have alleged McCabe is biased because in 2015, his wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, was a candidate for Virginia state Senate and received campaign donations from a super PAC of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a friend of Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton. Jill McCabe, a Democrat, was defeated in the election.
Andrew McCabe later faced scrutiny, as Comey’s deputy, for his role in the FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. He didn’t assume that position until well after his wife’s campaign had ended, and, under pressure, he recused himself from matters involving Clinton.
Nevertheless, Trump has repeatedly attacked McCabe, who is now the FBI deputy director. In December, Trump falsely stated that McCabe was “given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation.”
Trump has frequently blasted his FBI and Justice Department, and claims he has the “absolute right” to direct the Department of Justice as he sees fit.
Comey testified to congressional investigators that Trump asked for his loyalty and requested that he end the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has since been indicted in the Russia probe.