Politics Senate Inquiry Into Russian Meddling Could Wrap Up This Year, Burr Says

15:50  12 august  2017
15:50  12 august  2017 Source:   The New York Times

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WASHINGTON — Senator Richard Burr , the initially reluctant but now determined leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the investigation had expanded beyond its original scope based on new evidence

Then there is the Senate , where, by contrast Wednesday, the leaders of that body's Intelligence Committee presented a united front as they shared details of their ongoing inquiry into Russian " This is one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here," said Burr .

Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, spoke to reporters after a closed Senate Intelligence Committee meeting in May. © Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, spoke to reporters after a closed Senate Intelligence Committee meeting in May.

WASHINGTON — Senator Richard Burr, the initially reluctant but now determined leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the investigation had expanded beyond its original scope based on new evidence, but he hoped to complete it this year to allow Congress to take steps to prevent future efforts at tampering by Moscow.

”What continues this investigation are the names of individuals that we didn’t know at the time, the documents that we weren’t aware of, the communications, the cables, the emails, the phone logs of individuals that we wouldn’t have thought then that we needed to interview or to look at their records,” said Mr. Burr, the North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the intelligence panel.

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Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to create an independent commission to investigate Russia ’s meddling . While it’s unclear whether Burr ’s remarks were planned or off-the-cuff, the decision to not include that aspect in the inquiry was news to Warner and other Senate Democrats, said a congressional source.

"We must advance more quickly than our adversary and only together can we do so," Burr said . After the hearing, Burr said he'd like to finish the investigation into Russian meddling by the end of this year , but acknowledged "that's aspirational right now."

Mr. Burr said he remained “hopeful that we can bring finality to this by the end of the year, but I also can’t anticipate anything new that might come up that we don’t know today that would extend it by a month or two months. So I am conscious of the fact that I need to do this expeditiously, but I need to do it thoroughly and I won’t do anything to cut it short.”

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The timeline, offered by Mr. Burr in his first extended interview in eight months, for The New York Times podcast “The New Washington,” was the most definitive to date and indicated the Senate report could deliver the first substantive congressional accounting of Russia’s efforts to covertly influence last year’s election.

[How to listen: If you don’t see an audio player on this page or to subscribe to “The New Washington” for free, follow the instructions at the end of this article.]

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Mr. Burr, a longtime intelligence committee member who would much prefer that Congress talk about spying behind closed doors, said it was essential that the usually secretive committee publicly lay out its findings.

Mr. Burr said the emergence of new information pushed the inquiry in new directions and that he would not shy away from scrutinizing any business dealings of those tied to the Trump campaign if evidence emerged of collusion or whether anyone was compromised by Russia.

But he quickly added, “I have not seen anything that would suggest that we needed to do that,” he said.

Democrats initially pressed for the creation of a special committee to handle the inquiry. Many of them expressed deep reservations about relying too heavily on Mr. Burr to conduct an aggressive investigation into any effort by Russia to boost Donald Trump’s campaign, given his strong support for the president and his role as an adviser to Mr. Trump. Their skepticism was heightened in January when Mr. Burr suggested that the committee was not equipped to delve into the possibility of any links between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

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In fact, Russian election meddling was the very first thing the committee tackled in public this year , on Jan. 10 — before Trump was even sworn in as Our ruling. Burr bragged about the transparency of his Senate committee’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia .

Under pressure from Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel, Mr. Burr quickly reversed course and promised a broad inquiry into Russian election activities. Mr. Warner has worked closely with Mr. Burr and Democrats have generally held their fire while giving Mr. Burr credit for holding public hearings such as the one in early June that featured testimony from James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director.

Mr. Burr said his decision to plunge ahead in concert with Mr. Warner was driven by their mutual understanding that Congress needed to show the public “that the intrusion by the Russians was so blatant and so comprehensive” that Congress would be justified in taking punishing steps.

“Is this the new norm?” Mr. Burr asked about Russian attempts to influence domestic politics. “I hope not. And we’ve got to do everything we can to architecturally change our system here so that any impact in the future has a very early warning detection system.”

Mr. Burr acknowledged that his conviction about the scope of Russian activity puts him at odds with Mr. Trump, who — despite an intelligence community consensus — has questioned whether Russia played a role and whether it was intended to benefit him.

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“Some have tried to spin this that he didn’t really win, it was something that was externally orchestrated by Russian involvement,” Mr. Burr said. “The fact is they didn’t alter the vote count in any way, shape or form. I wish the president would take that at face value and understand he got more electoral votes, he got sworn in as president, he is president, he won it, he earned it.”

“I want to separate that from the threat that Russia presents us because we have got to go through this process. We need to be punitive to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future,” he said.

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Some have questioned whether the committee has the personnel to do such a complex investigation. But Mr. Burr strongly defended his staff and said that deep expertise in intelligence matters has put the Intelligence Committee well ahead of other inquiries, including that of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department.

“These are some of the smartest, most dedicated people,” said Mr. Burr. “They had no learning curve that they had to go through. They have been able to read intelligence products and understand what they meant. I am sure Bob Mueller is going through a situation with the special counsel’s office where he is bringing in lawyers that have never read an intelligence report, who are having to turn to somebody to get them to explain what it means. That is a reason we have had almost 100 interviews to date.”

“I’m not sure that anybody that’s got an investigation going on is currently anywhere near where we are in this process,” he said.

During his re-election campaign last year, Mr. Burr said it would be his last and that he did not intend to run again in 2022. In the interview, he hedged on whether that decision allowed him more freedom in running the investigation.

“I am not sure whether I was running or not running I would necessarily pick this as an exercise I would like to go through,” he said. “It is the one I’ve been dealt and it is the reason the committee exists. Not to do it or to do it in less than a total way would be to ignore the responsibility I’ve been given.”

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