Sen­a­tor says con­tacts risk panel in­quiry

Warner: Repub­li­can’s hand in Rus­sia re­but­tal a con­cern

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Steven T. Den­nis of Bloomberg News; by Matthew Schofield of Tri­bune News Ser­vice; by Me­lanie Ma­son of Los An­ge­les Times; and by Shan­non Pet­ty­p­iece of Bloomberg News.

WASH­ING­TON — The Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat has ex­pressed his “grave con­cerns” to com­mit­tee chair­man Richard Burr over re­ports that Burr worked with the White House to try to quash neg­a­tive sto­ries about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s U.S. elec­tions.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the re­ports re­gard­ing Burr, R- N.C., threaten the in­tegrity of the top con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter. He said he ex­pressed his con­cerns to Burr and to CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo, warn­ing that he could pull the plug on what has been the one ma­jor con­gres­sional in­quiry with bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

“I have seen the press re­ports sug­gest­ing that the White House en­listed se­nior mem­bers of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and Congress to counter allegations re­gard­ing is­sues that are cur­rently un­der SSCI in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Warner said in a state­ment posted on his web­site late Fri­day, us­ing an acro­nym to

re­fer to the com­mit­tee. “I have called Di­rec­tor Pom­peo and Chair­man Burr to ex­press my grave con­cerns about what this means for the in­de­pen­dence of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a bi­par­ti­san com­mit­ment to fol­low the facts, and to re­in­force that I will not ac­cept any process that is un­der­mined by po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.”

The White House ad­mit­ted last week to con­tact­ing Burr and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and ask­ing them to speak to re­porters to de­bunk re­ports of “re­peated” or “con­stant” con­tact be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sian of­fi­cials. Nunes is chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.

Both men have is­sued state­ments say­ing they have done noth­ing im­proper.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Fri­day that Burr ac­knowl­edged he “had con­ver­sa­tions about” Rus­siare­lated news re­ports with the White House and en­gaged with news or­ga­ni­za­tions to dis­pute ar­ti­cles by The New York Times and CNN about con­tact be­tween Trump cam­paign mem­bers and Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives.

“I felt I had some­thing to share that didn’t breach my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the com­mit­tee in an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Burr told the Post.

Warner said he will con­sult with the other Democrats on the panel to de­ter­mine what to do next, “so we can en­sure that the Amer­i­can peo­ple get the thor­ough, im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion that they de­serve, free from White House in­ter­fer­ence.”

Warner ear­lier this month said he had con­fi­dence in Burr, but that now ap­pears to have been shaken.

“I have said from the very be­gin­ning of this mat­ter that if SSCI can­not prop­erly con­duct an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I will sup­port em­pow­er­ing who­ever can do it right,” he said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Satur­day that the con­tact from the White House on a mat­ter un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­di­cates that an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion might be needed “to get to the bot­tom of at­tempted Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in our elec­tions.”

“While I also be­lieve the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee should con­tinue its im­por­tant in­ves­ti­ga­tion, re­ports that the White House asked in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and law­mak­ers to help counter sto­ries on Rus­sia is Ex­hibit One on why we also need an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion,” she said in a state­ment.

Sen. Ron Wy­den of Ore­gon, a se­nior Demo­crat on the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, also warned about the re­ports.

“If Chair­man Burr is dis­cussing clas­si­fied mat­ters with the press and pre-judg­ing the com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, all at the be­hest of the White House, it’s hard to imag­ine how he could con­vince me or the pub­lic of his im­par­tial­ity,” Wy­den said in a emailed state­ment. “If that is the case, I in­tend to co-spon­sor leg­is­la­tion cre­at­ing an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in our democ­racy.”

Repub­li­can lead­ers have re­sisted calls from top Democrats for an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion or a se­lect com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter.

Warner’s state­ment was re­leased af­ter Rep. Dar­rell Issa, R-Calif., who led the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee dur­ing Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, called for a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Ma­her that aired Fri­day.

Ma­her pressed the con­gress­man on whether he fa­vored re­cusal for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, Trump’s ap­pointee to lead the Jus­tice De­part­ment and an early cam­paign backer.

“You’re right that you can­not have some­body — a friend of mine, Jeff Ses­sions — who was on the cam­paign and who is an ap­pointee,” Issa said. “You’re go­ing to need to use the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor’s statute and of­fice.”

He added that it would be in­suf­fi­cient to hand the job off to the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, an­other po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee.

The na­tional debt of $19.9 tril­lion did de­crease $12 bil­lion — six-hun­dredths of 1 per­cent — from his first day in of­fice un­til his 30th. But the debt fluc­tu­ates by bil­lions of dol­lars each day, and the cur­rent spend­ing and tax rev­enue lev­els that drive those short-term vari­ances were set by the last ad­min­is­tra­tion, econ­o­mists said.

TRUMP NOTES DEBT DROP

Sep­a­rately Satur­day, Trump asked on Twit­ter why the me­dia hasn’t re­ported that the na­tional debt has dropped since his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

One ex­pla­na­tion, some econ­o­mists said, is that the pres­i­dent couldn’t have had any­thing to do with it.

“Any­thing that has hap­pened to the debt has been on au­topi­lot since Obama left,” said Lau­rence Kot­likoff, an eco­nomics pro­fes­sor at Bos­ton Univer­sity. “If any­thing, he is tak­ing credit for some­thing Obama did.”

The pres­i­dent took to Twit­ter on Satur­day morn­ing to say the na­tional debt de­clined by $12 bil­lion in his first month in of­fice com­pared with a $ 200 bil­lion in­crease in Obama’s first month in of­fice. The tweet fol­lowed a Fox News seg­ment on which for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Her­man Cain made the same state­ment.

The num­bers are ac­cu­rate. The na­tional debt of $19.9 tril­lion did de­crease $12 bil­lion — six-hun­dredths of 1 per­cent — from his first day in of­fice un­til his 30th. But the debt fluc­tu­ates by bil­lions of dol­lars each day, and the cur­rent spend­ing and tax rev­enue lev­els that drive those short­term vari­ances were set by the last ad­min­is­tra­tion, econ­o­mists said. Trump hasn’t had a chance in his first weeks to change the level of rev­enue col­lected through higher taxes or cut fed­eral spend­ing through a new bud­get.

“We ap­plaud the pres­i­dent for fo­cus­ing on the debt as an im­por­tant met­ric of suc­cess and eco­nomic health, but would point out that the im­prove­ment this early in his term has to do with nor­mal fluc­tu­a­tions in spend­ing and rev­enues rather than new poli­cies he has im­ple­mented,” said Maya MacGuineas, pres­i­dent of the Com­mit­tee for a Re­spon­si­ble Fed­eral Bud­get.

A White House spokesman wasn’t im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

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