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Intel leaders: Collusion still open part of investigation
The Senate Intelligence Committee is still investigating whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, the panel's leaders said Wednesday.
"The committee continues to look into all evidence to see if there was any hint of collusion," Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told a room packed with reporters. "I'm not even going to discuss initial findings because we haven't any."
But, he added later, "The issue of collusion is still open."
Burr, standing alongside ranking Intelligence Committee member Mark Warner (D-Va.), signaled that there is no immediate end in sight for the investigation, which they said has expanded far beyond its initial scope.
But the two gave a rare public window into the panel's work, which has been underway for nine months.
In one significant development, they said committee members and staff have reached "general consensus" that they trust the intelligence community's formal assessment that Russia launched a wide-scale disinformation campaign targeted at the 2016 election. That assessment was issued during the Obama administration.
President Trump has repeatedly insisted that the hack and release of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) might not have been perpetrated by the Kremlin - a point on which intelligence officials have been unequivocal.
Burr stopped short, however, of giving a complete endorsement of the Obama-era report, which claimed that Russia had intervened on behalf of Trump. The committee has not come to a conclusion on Russia's preferences, he said, only that Moscow intended to sow "chaos on every level."
He told reporters that the committee is also close to reaching a definite conclusion on the significance of an April 2016 meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, during which Attorney General Jeff Sessions allegedly met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The committee has interviewed seven witnesses that attended the event - a foreign policy speech by Trump - and their testimony has been consistent, Burr said.
Burr also signaled that the committee has learned everything that it needs to know about the president's controversial decision to dismiss former FBI Director James Comey. Critics say that the president was attempting to strangle the federal investigation into Russia.
"The committee is satisfied that our involvement with this issue has reached a logical end as it relates to the Russia investigation," Burr said. "This is not something that we've closed, but we have exhausted every person that we can talk to to get information that's pertinent to us, relative to the Russia investigation."
The committee also issued a pointed warning to one key witness that it has yet to reach.
Burr said investigators have "hit a wall" in their review of a dossier that contained incendiary allegations about Trump and Russia. The so-called "Steele dossier" was written by a former MI6 agent named Christopher Steele; so far, he has rebuffed requests from the panel for an interview.
Without understanding who paid for the document and who Steele's sources were, Burr said, the committee cannot make a determination about the credibility of allegations it contains that pre-date June of 2016.
"My hope is that Mr. Steele will make a decision to meet with either Mark and I or the committee, so we can hear his side of it versus for us to depict in our findings what his intent or what his actions were," Burr said. "I say that to you, but I also say it to Chris Steele."
He also warned future witnesses in the probe to cooperate, saying the committee will not hesitate to use its subpoena power.
Over the summer, Burr told The New York Times that he expected to wrap up the Russia investigation by the end of the year. But on Wednesday, Burr declined to set a firm timeline, saying only that he aspires to be finished by the end of 2017.
In the nine months since the investigation began, the committee has interviewed over 100 witnesses - some of whom were overseas - and collected thousands of pages of documents. Twenty-five witnesses are booked to appear before the committee in the coming month alone.
Burr revealed Wednesday that Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, will come before the committee in an open session in November.
When the committee began its work in January, it was focused on three separate "buckets": ongoing Russian involvement in the U.S. electoral process, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and an evaluation of the intelligence community assessment.
Now, Burr says, the documents that committee members have seen and the testimony they have heard have opened up new lines of inquiry - making the end of the investigation difficult to predict.
"When we started nine months ago, I saw three buckets. Today, I talked about five or six," he said.
"I didn't dream them what it would expand to - I can't predict what witnesses will share with us that might lead us in a different direction."
- This story was updated at 4:02 p.m.