The Senate Judiciary Committee canceled Tuesday’s hearing on the origins of the Trump-Russia probe after disgraced former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe cited the coronavirus outbreak in refusing to testify in person or remotely.
Mr. McCabe, who is now a paid CNN contributor, was expected to answer questions about the inaccuracies and omissions in court filings used to obtain warrants to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the bureau’s reliance on British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s unverified dossier, which had been denounced by one of Mr. Steele’s sub-sources.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican and a member of the committee, said previous witness testimony, not COVID-19, likely scared off Mr. McCabe.
“I think Mr. McCabe may feel like a lot of things are beginning to point to him,” she told The Washington Times. “The circle is beginning to tighten, and Mr. McCabe would rather talk on CNN than be put under oath and answer questions.”
Mr. McCabe’s testimony is critical to the committee’s efforts to get to the bottom of the Russia probe’s origins.
“The people at the Obama [Department of Justice] and FBI used their power to spy on a private citizen who was running for president of the United States and people are demanding to know how in heaven’s name this happened,” Ms. Blackburn said.
The committee already has heard from several witnesses both in public and in private, including former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former FBI Director James B. Comey.
All three witnesses claimed ignorance of virtually every allegation of FBI wrongdoing discussed during their hearings. The trio also said they wouldn’t have signed off on the Page warrants if they knew then what they know today.
If Mr. McCabe continues to rebuff the committee, a subpoena may be issued, Ms. Blackburn said.
Mr. McCabe pulled out of the hearing after two Republicans on the panel, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, tested positive for coronavirus on Friday.
His lawyer sent a letter Saturday saying testifying in person would “put his family at risk” and testifying remotely would be unfair given the unpredictability of video conferencing technology and the complexity of lawmakers’ questions.
“Mr. McCabe is willing, able and eager to testify in person about Crossfire Hurricane at any time in the future when it is safe to do so,” the lawyer, Michael Bromwich, wrote in a letter to Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
Mr. Bromwich said his client was unwilling to testify remotely because such witnesses are at a “distinct disadvantage.”
The letter referenced the testimony of Ms. Yates and Mr. Comey, who both appeared via video conference, claiming they were interrupted by senators so much that their answers, at times, were not understandable.
A committee spokesperson said the hearing would be rescheduled but did not provide further details.
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor who has testified before Congress, including during the House impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump, lambasted Mr. McCabe’s decision.
Calling Mr. McCabe’s reasoning “utterly and almost comically absurd,” he said the senators won’t let him get away with spinning his tenure at the FBI.
“He is now advancing a position that is absurd on its face but has received little press interest or criticism. He will continue to answer questions remotely at CNN of course — a hermetically sealed safe space for Andrew McCabe,” Mr. Turley wrote in a blog post.
Mr. McCabe last week raised questions about the likelihood of his testimony when he said the FBI was withholding critical documents.
He said the bureau had blocked his access to personal calendars and notes from the early days of the Russia probe, saying they might contain classified information.
Mr. Bromwich said the FBI has denied the request because Mr. McCabe has a lawsuit pending against the bureau and Justice Department. The lawsuit, filed last year, argues that he was fired in 2018 as an act of political retribution at the behest of Mr. Trump.
In early 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Mr. McCabe, citing an inspector general report that concluded he misled investigators about the leaks he had made to the press.