WASHINGTON - The acting chief of the FBI told the US Congress Thursday that President Donald Trump’s shock firing of James Comey will not derail the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump dismissed the FBI director citing his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails, but opponents suspect his ouster was a bid to stall the Russia investigation, which is also looking into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s team.

“There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” acting FBI director Andrew McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a hearing that capped two days of high drama provoked by the dismissal.

“You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” he said. “All of the agents involved in the investigation are still in their positions.”

McCabe meanwhile took issue with the White House’s claim that Comey had lost the support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s rank and file. “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does today,” he told the committee. “I hold director Comey in the highest regard. I have the highest respect for his abilities and his integrity.”

Echoing a widely-held view in opposition ranks, the senior democrat on the Senate committee, John Warner, called the timing of Comey’s dismissal “especially troubling.” “He was leading an active counterintelligence investigation into any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government or its representatives, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election.”

“For many people, including myself, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the president’s decision to remove Director Comey was related to this investigation.”

McCabe gave no information on the status of the FBI probe, which dates back to July last year when the agency became aware of alleged Russian hacking of Democratic party computers and communications.

McCabe and five other top intelligence officials, including the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, reiterated their January conclusion that the Russian government was behind the effort to manipulate last year’s election. Trump has repeatedly downplayed suspicions of Russian interference, and dismisses any notion of collusion with his team as “fake news.”

McCabe refused to respond to panel questions over Trump’s claim, made as he announced Comey’s firing, that the former FBI chief told him on three occasions he was not under investigation.

“I can’t comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president,” McCabe said.

He meanwhile pledged not to discuss the Russia investigation with the White House, saying it had adequate resources to proceed. Unconfirmed media reports said that Comey in recent weeks sought more financial resources from the government to support the probe. “I can assure you we are covered,” McCabe told the panel when asked if the FBI needs more money for the investigation.

US President Donald Trump insisted Thursday he always intended to fire FBI director James Comey, undercutting the initial White House explanation that he acted on the recommendation of top justice officials.

“I was going to fire him regardless of recommendations,” said the president. “He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander.”

Donald Trump’s administration was left red-faced Thursday after the Kremlin surprised them by releasing pictures of a closed-door meeting between the US president and Russia’s top diplomat.

The images - issued by the Russian state news agency TASS, and subsequently published by much of the global media - showed a grinning Trump shaking hands with Sergei Lavrov and the Russian ambassador in Washington, Sergei Kislyak, during an Oval Office meeting.

Six top US intelligence officials told Congress Thursday they agree with the conclusion that Russia acted to influence last year’s election, countering President Donald Trump’s assertions that the hacking remains an open question.

Asked whether they believed the intelligence community’s January assessment that Russia was responsible for hacking and leaking information to influence the elections was accurate, all six spy and law enforcement bosses appearing before the panel said “yes.”

They included Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA director Mike Pompeo and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, newly installed after Trump fired the agency’s chief James Comey this week.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Thursday it was too early to speak of a thaw in ties with Washington, a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met US President Donald Trump. “It’s too early to draw this conclusion,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

But he added: “Of course the fact that a dialogue is taking place is very positive.”

Peskov said both Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to be at the G20 summit in Germany in July, which “could serve as a good occasion” for them to meet.

Wednesday’s meeting came as Trump was embroiled in a political firestorm over the investigations into allegations his US presidential election campaign had colluded with Russia.

Lavrov met both Trump and US counterpart Rex Tillerson in Washington, saying the US president was seeking “mutually beneficial” and “pragmatic” relations with Moscow.

“The goal of both president Trump and president Putin is to have concrete results which will be tangible and which will allow (us) to alleviate problems, including on the international agenda,” he told reporters.

Tillerson also travelled to Moscow last month for talks with Lavrov.

Tillerson, who also had a closed-door meeting with Putin during his visit, deplored the “low level of trust” between the two powers, whose relations have sunk to a post-Cold War low over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

“The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” the US secretary of state said.

In a shock move on Tuesday, Trump sacked FBI chief James Comey, the man overseeing federal investigations into suspected Kremlin interference in the 2016 US vote.