Se­nate panel lead­ers now thor­ough­ness

Probe will go where in­tel­li­gence leads, GOP chair­man says.

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMAN AT THE LEGISLATURE - Matt Flegenheimer and Emmarie Huetteman ©2017 The New York Times

Lead­ers of WASH­ING­TON — the Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into President Don­ald Trump’s pos­si­ble ties to Rus­sia on Wed­nes­day sought to dis­tance them­selves from the flag­ging House in­quiry, eager to es­tab­lish their work as cred­i­ble in the face of grow- ing doubts about Congress’ ca­pac­ity to hold Trump and his as­so­ciates to ac­count.

In a con­spic­u­ous show of bi­par­ti­san­ship dur­ing a fraught mo­ment at the Capi­tol, the top Repub­li­can and Demo- crat on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee pledged to forge ahead by in­ter­view­ing key play­ers con­nected to Trump and press­ing in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to pro­vide all rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion.

Their com­posed and seem­ingly uni­fied dis­play served as a con­trast to the ex­plo­sive and of­ten be­wil­der­ing state- ments from the Repub­li­can chair­man of the House In­telli- gence Com­mit­tee, Rep. Devin Nunes of Cal­i­for­nia, whose ties to the Trump White House have raised doubts about his abil­ity to con­duct an im­par- tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Se­nate com­mit- tee’s Repub­li­can chair­man and a sup­porter of Trump dur­ing the cam­paign, on Wed­nes­day sug­gested he would not shy away from apro­cess that could dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of a Repub­li­can president.

“This in­ves­ti­ga­tion’s scope will go wher­ever the in­tel­li­gence leads,” Burr said.

Asked later whether he could say yet whether Trump had been di­rectly in­volved in talks with the Rus­sians, Burr was stern.

“We know that our chal- lenge,” he said, “is to an­swer that ques­tion for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Burr and his Demo­cratic coun­ter­part on the com­mit­tee, Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­ginia, left lit­tle doubt that they viewed the House’s un­ruly process as an af­ter­thought,

one that should not re­flect on their own ef­forts.

Each sen­a­tor of­fered some ev­i­dence of what he had re­viewed so far, with Warner say­ing that there could have been 1,000 in­ter­net trolls in Rus­sia who gen­er­ated fake news sto­ries and tar­geted them at swing states like Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia, and Burr not­ing that it was clear that Rus­sians are “ac­tively in­volved” in try­ing to in­flu­ence the up­com­ing French elec­tions. The com­mit­tee will hold a pub­lic hear­ing on Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence Thurs­day.

It was clear that Burr and Warner wanted to project a level of co­op­er­a­tion that has dis­in­te­grated in the House.

“Let me set the ground rules real quick,” Burr said be­fore tak­ing ques­tions. “We’ll an­swer any­thing about the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We will not take ques­tions on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.”

Burr could not sup­press a smirk. Warner laughed out­right.

The con­gres­sional in­quiries are not re­lated, but their fo­cuses over­lap, leav­ing the Se­nate panel to de­fend it­self in the face of Nunes’ as­sorted claims. While the vast ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans in the House have stood by Nunes amid calls for him to re­cuse him­self, his ma­neu­ver­ing — in­clud­ing by­pass­ing his com­mit­tee to brief the White House about rel­e­vant in­tel­li­gence— has placed House com­mit­tee mem­bers in an un­com­fort­able spot.

One Repub­li­can law­maker, Rep. Char­lie Dent of Penn­syl­va­nia, sug­gested on Wed­nes­day that the Se­nate should take the lead on Congress’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ties be­tween the president’s or­bit and Rus­sia.

Democrats are skep­ti­cal. But they are also mind­ful that the Se­nate likely re­mains their best hope on Capi­tol Hill for gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion, mak­ing them dis­in­clined to aban­don the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

For months, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell has re­sisted calls for a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor or se­lect com­mit­tee to over­see the ex­am­i­na­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion.

Asked on Tues­day why the con­tro­ver­sies in­volv­ing Nunes had not caused him to change his mind, McCon­nell said, “Be­cause it’s not nec­es­sary.”

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