Senate Probe Gets ‘Clearer Picture’ of Possible Trump, Russia Collusion
Sen. Richard Burr said his committee’s investigation has “expanded slightly.”
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his panel’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election has ended its examination of the firing of FBI Director James Comey and is “developing a clearer picture” of whether Trump campaign operatives colluded with Kremlin agents.
“The issue of collusion is still open,” he said, adding that the committee’s investigation has reached no conclusions after interviewing more than 100 people and reviewing thousands of pages of documents. Burr said the investigation is continuing.
“We have more work to do as it relates to collusion, but we are developing a clearer picture of what happened,” Burr said.
Though the two top members of the intelligence panel declined to set a date for the end of their investigation, Burr made it clear he wanted candidates and election officials to benefit from those conclusions before midterm elections.
“We’ve got to make our facts as it relates to Russia’s involvement in our election public prior to the primaries getting started in 2018,” he said.
Whether aides to U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign collaborated in a Russian campaign to steal and leak documents damaging to his opponents has emerged as a central question to FBI and congressional investigators, an idea that Trump has dismissed as a hoax.
According to a dossier authored by a former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele, Trump campaign officials worked hand-in-glove with Kremlin operatives. That dossier also contained explosive allegations that the Kremlin possessed compromising information about Trump, but Burr said his committee’s investigation of the Steele memos has hit a wall concerning information prior to June of 2016.
Burr, who spoke alongside the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said his committee has repeatedly attempted to interview Steele but that he has rebuffed their offers.
“The committee cannot really decide the credibility of the dossier without understanding things like: Who paid for it? Who were your sources and subsources?” Burr said, adding a pointed message to Steele: “I strongly suggest you come in and speak with us.”
While Trump’s defenders have dismissed the Steele dossier as a politically motivated smear, Burr indicated that his committee is still working to evaluate its claims and has not dismissed it outright.
FBI investigators are also examining whether Trump may have obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey in May, but the Senate committee appears to be moving away from an examination of that issue.
In a series of memos, Comey documented several conversations with Trump in which the president asked him to end his bureau’s investigation of then-national security advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said his committee “is satisfied that our involvement with this issue has reached a logical end” and that questions about Comey’s firing are better addressed by the Justice Department. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller is conducting a separate investigation into Comey’s firing and the question of campaign collusion with Russia.
Burr said his committee’s investigation is rapidly moving forward and has carried out more than 100 interviews and has canvassed nearly 100,00 pages of documents, many of them highly classified. The committee has another 25 interviews scheduled for the month of October and has interviewed every administration official involved in the January intelligence community assessment that concluded Russian intervened in the 2016 election and did so to boost Trump’s electoral chances.
Burr and Warner, after being publicly critical of social media companies’ hesitation to take Russian meddling on their platforms seriously, appeared optimistic that further forensic investigation by Facebook, Twitter, and Google would lead to more robust conclusions. CNN reported this week that Russian-bought ads on Facebook specifically targeted key voters in the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin, both of which Trump won by narrow margins.
The three companies have been invited to testify publicly on Nov. 1, but they haven’t yet accepted. “I think they’ve got more work to do,” Warner said.
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Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll