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The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee spoke at length on Wednesday, conveying one major point during a press conference about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election: Their committee was not descending into the chaos that enveloped their House counterpart for the past week.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s ranking member, were forceful in playing up the bipartisan nature of their investigation during the press conference.
When Burr, who called the investigation”one of the biggest” Congress has seen in his 20-plus-year tenure on Capitol Hill, was asked about his past support for Trump, including his past role as an adviser to his campaign, the North Carolina senator joked that he would “do something I’ve never done.”
“I’ll admit that I voted for him,” he said. “But I’ve got a job in the United States Senate. And I take that job extremely seriously.”
“It overrides any personal beliefs that I have or loyalties I might have,” he continued. “Mark and I might look at politics differently – we don’t look at the responsibilities we have on the committee differently. And that’s to earn the trust and respect of the intelligence community so they feel open and good about sharing information with us, because that enables us to do our oversight … that much better.”
Warner jumped in, adding that he has “confidence” that the Burr-led committee will “get to the bottom of this.”
“And … if you get nothing else from today, take that statement to the bank,” he said.
- AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta
As Burr and Warner stood next to each other answering questions about their committee’s investigation, House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes continued his defense of meeting on the White House grounds with a source to get information pertaining to potential surveillance of President Trump and his team, a move that many said delegitimized the integrity of the House investigation into Russia.
Nunes and committee Democrats spent the day disputing assertions made by the other side regarding their investigation’s process. Prominent Democrats, and now even a Republican congressman, have called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation, which he has insisted he would not do.
Before last week, Nunes and Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff did press conferences in the style of Burr and Warner, standing alongside each other. But that veneer of bipartisanship vanished after Nunes first went to the press alone to disclose the Trump-related information last week, without presenting it to the rest of his committee.
For the two senators, Wednesday’s press conference could not have stood in starker contrast to the investigation taking place in the House.
“We will get to the bottom of this,” Warner said. “Richard and I have known each other a long time. And the chairman and I have serious concern about what the Russians have done and continue to do around the world.”
Burr said the leaders “can’t say enough what the mission of the Senate committee is.”
- AP Photo/Susan Walsh
“Which is to look at all activities that Russia might have taken to alter or influence the 2016 elections in the United States,” Burr continued. “In addition to that, the mission of the committee is to look at any contacts [either campaign had] with Russian government, Russian government officials, that might have influenced in any way shape or form the election process.”
“We take that very seriously,” he added. “It’s not something that can be done quickly.”
The North Carolina Republican promised his committee would look “anywhere intelligence suggest there might have been any type of relationship or effort to influence US elections.”
Asked about whether he could definitively rule out any collusion between the Trump team and Russian officials, Burr said it was “crazy to try to draw conclusions” at this stage of the investigation, adding that it is unwise to share updates on a “minute-by-minute” basis because those bits and pieces are “not always accurate” once further intelligence is uncovered.
The House investigation, for the past week, has seemingly been operating in a way where such “minute-by-minute” revelations are being made, starting with Nunes’ first briefing with reporters last week. Burr said his committee would not be asking the House to play “any role in our investigation” and “we don’t plan to play any role in their investigation.”
Warner insisted that a bipartisan approach is a must for an investigation that has, in many respects, become infected with partisanship elsewhere.
“If we don’t come to some joint conclusion … I think we will not have fulfilled our duty,” he said, later adding, “We’re going to get it right.”