Senate panel leaders now thoroughness
Probe will go where intelligence leads, GOP chairman says.
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.”