National Security

Intel Committee Dems huddle amid fight over Russia probe

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Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats huddled Monday night amid reports that Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) — the committee’s GOP chairman — helped shoot down an article detailing contact between President Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Democrats emerged from the closed-door meeting signaling that they are not yet willing to walk away from the committee’s investigation, but stressed that the probe has to be independent.

“We’ve go to do this independently. It’s got to be kept bipartisan as long as it can and we’ve got to follow the truth,” Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters.

{mosads}Asked if he felt like he would be able to get such assurances from Burr, Warner said, “That’s going to be the challenge in the coming days.”

Monday evening’s meeting comes amid reports that the White House asked Burr, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to help push back against a New York Times article on pre-election contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Warner separately told a Bloomberg reporter heading into the meeting that he would be discussing with Democrats on the committee what to do with the investigation in light of the reports.

A spokeswoman for Burr didn’t respond to request for comment earlier Monday about an Axios report that White House press secretary Sean Spicer set up calls between Burr and reporters and then stayed on the line for the phone calls.

Pressed on Monday if he thought Democrats on the committee were committed to the oncoming investigation, Warner said, “People want the facts.”

“The challenge with some of these other plans would simply mean months and months of delay before you could find some other form to bring people up to speed on the information that it critical,” he said when asked about the possibility of an independent commission.

Top Democrats have warned that they will double down on their push for an independent commission if they believe the congressional committees aren’t willing to investigate the GOP administration.

Both the House and Senate Intelligence committees are probing Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Asked if he was still confident about the committee’s investigation, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said reports about contact between the White House and GOP lawmakers, if true, would raise concerns among the public.

“I’m not going to speculate about committee deliberations … but if these reports are true, then the public is going to question if there’s going to be an impartial inquiry and I think that will generate independent support for some kind of independent commission,” he told reporters.

He said he believes the committee’s current investigation could be more open, including declassifying more information without compromising national security.

The closed-door huddle comes after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned earlier Monday that Burr is “on notice.”

“Sen. Burr’s on notice, because what he did was wrong. This is not the way to conduct a fair, impartial investigation that goes where the facts lead,” Schumer said during a press conference at the National Press Club.

Reports that the White House asked top officials and lawmakers to push back against the New York Times report also drew pushback from some GOP senators over the weekend.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — a member of the intelligence committee — reiterated her support for the investigation, but added that “it is important that the Committee work in a completely bipartisan fashion and that we avoid any actions that might be perceived as compromising the integrity of our work.”

Spicer defended the move to connect reporters with top lawmakers and Pompeo on Monday, saying reporters were coming to the White House asking if they could substantiate their belief that the Times story isn’t accurate.

“So, the answer is, you know, we have continued to give reporters information and sources that went to the accuracy, or the lack thereof, of a report that was in a newspaper,” he told reporters.

Nunes also denied that the White House coordinated effort to push back on stories.

“All it was, was a White House communications person passing a number and a name of a reporter over to me if I would talk to them following up what I had already told all of you in the days before that,” he said.

But those comments appear to have done little to publicly assuage Democrats’ concerns.

Wyden pointed to Spicer weighing in on the reports during his press briefing as an example that “all kinds of people” are hearing about the probe except the public.

“That’s just going to make people more skeptical,” he said.

Asked how he would get Burr and Republicans to give assurances of acting independently and in a bipartisan way, Warner separately told reporters to “stay tuned.”

Tags Charles Schumer Mark Warner Richard Burr Ron Wyden Susan Collins
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