Senator says contacts risk panel inquiry
Warner: Republican’s hand in Russia rebuttal a concern
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.