Senate intelligence panel leaders promise bipartisan cooperation in Russia probe

"We are going to get this right," the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairman said Wednesday.
By Doug G. Ware  |  March 29, 2017 at 7:27 PM
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March 29 (UPI) -- The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday the panel's investigation can't yet determine whether the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election -- or whether members of President Donald Trump's campaign were complicit in such an effort.

Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., the committee's chair and vice chair, briefed news media on its ongoing investigation -- one of at least three active government investigations into potential efforts by the Kremlin to sway November's vote in Trump's favor.

Burr said the committee this week requested to interview 20 people close to the matter, and that five of those interviews have been scheduled. The only person on that list publicly identified so far is senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, the chairman said.

"The committee will conduct an interview with Mr. Kushner when the committee decides that it's time for us to set a date [after] we know exactly the scope of what needs to be asked," Burr noted.

Burr said Kushner volunteered to be interviewed about his contacts, along with multiple others. NBC News reported Wednesday that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and associates Carter Page and Roger Stone have also volunteered to testify.

"The mission of the committee is to look at any campaign contacts with Russian government or Russian government officials that might have influenced in any way, shape or form the election process," Burr said in a joint news conference with Warner.

"Getting it done right is more important than getting it done quickly," Warner said, adding that the committee intends to follow the intelligence wherever it leads in a bipartisan effort.

The Senate committee's investigation into Russia began in January and is still in its early stages. Burr noted that seven full-time staffers are assigned to the investigation and that they have been given a large amount of information previously available only to the "Gang of Eight," a name for the top eight intelligence leaders in Congress.

"It's safe to say that our staff is currently working through thousands of raw intelligence and analytic products," Burr said. "We are within weeks of completing our review of those documents."

Warner and Burr said the committee will hold a hearing Thursday to address Russia's "capability" to interfere in foreign governments and what can reasonably be expected from the Kremlin in the future. Two subcommittees will also review Moscow policies and Russian technology. , "We are going to get this right," Burr emphasized, calling the large volume of intelligence they have been able to review "unprecedented" in scale and availability.

"That's what gives us high hopes that we can reach a conclusion," he said. "This is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen in my tenure."

"It's important to not lose sight about what this investigation is about," Warner said. "An outside foreign adversary effectively sought to hijack our most critical democratic process -- the election of a president. ... I can assure you they didn't do it because it was in the best interest of the American people."

The Senate panel's investigation is running concurrently to probes in the House Intelligence Committee and the U.S. Department of Justice. All three are ongoing, but the U.S. intelligence community said weeks ago that Moscow had attempted to intercede in the election on Trump's behalf and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had direct knowledge of -- and had perhaps even ordered -- the effort.

Warner and Burr said in their remarks Wednesday that they would not address questions about the House investigation, which is presently experiencing turbulence over questions about chairman Devin Nunes' leadership.

"We are not asking the House to play any role in our investigation and we are not going to play any role in its investigation," Burr said.

The pair were also asked about their intention to interview former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, who was supposed to testify before the House panel Tuesday as part of its investigation. The hearing, also scheduled to include former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, was abruptly canceled. The bumped hearing fueled speculation that the Trump administration had blocked Yates from appearing -- a claim flatly refuted by the White House on Tuesday, and Burr and Warner on Wednesday.

"I'd like to see Ms. Yates at some point," Warner said. "[White House spokesman Sean Spicer] said he would be happy to have her testify .. that's something we have to jointly decide on.

"If we see any attempt to stifle us with information or cut off the intelligence professionals giving us the access we need, you will hear from us."

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