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Senate Intelligence Leaders Vow to 'Get It Right' in Russia Probe

Senate Intelligence Leaders Vow to 'Get It Right' in Russia Probe
Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Richard Burr, R-N.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By    |   Wednesday, 29 March 2017 05:01 PM

The co-chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they have not coordinated their Russia investigation with the White House and pledged to work cooperatively to "get to the bottom of this."

"No, sir, I have not," Republican Chairman Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said when asked whether the panel had involved the Trump administration in any scope of its probe on Moscow's role in last year's election.

He and Democratic Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia can work together because of "the relationship and trust that we have," Burr said.

Warner added "if we don't come to some joint conclusion, with the manipulation that took place in the election and with the American people saying — 'What's going on here?' — I think we would not have fulfilled our duty."

The senator also said he saw no evidence of the White House interfering with the committee's investigation.

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

"The committee will go wherever the intelligence leads us," Burr said.

"We'll get it right," his co-chairman added.

Burr and Warner met with reporters on the eve of their first public hearing — and the session contrasted greatly with the partisan rancor permeating the House Intelligence Committee.

Republican Chairman Devin Nunes of California is under fire from Democrats – and at least one GOP House member – to recuse himself from its investigation after sharing intelligence information with President Donald Trump before providing it to other panel members.

"We will not take questions on the House Intelligence Committee," Burr said as he opened the presser up to reporters. "We would refer those to the House Intelligence Committee."

He added later the Senate panel's probe was a separate inquiry.

"We're not asking the House to play any role in our investigation," Burr said. "We don't plan to play any role in their investigation."

The Senate committee's staff is poring through "thousands of pages of raw intelligence and analytic products" — and 20 people have been approached for interviews, he said.

They include Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, who has acknowledged meetings with Russians during the transition.

"One of the things that Mr. Kushner is volunteering to testify was a good sign" the White House is cooperating with the Senate investigation, Warner said, reiterating the adviser would be scheduled "at the appropriate time."

Warner also mentioned former Trump advisers Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page as possible witnesses.

Their sessions would be scheduled "in a timely way, so any individual, those and others — and there will be others — are interviewed when we have the right questions to ask," he said.

Regarding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who quit last month other his dealings with Russia, Burr would only say that "it's safe to say that we have had conversations with a lot of people.

"You would think less of us if Gen. Flynn wasn't in that list."

The senators also said they would like to see former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testify. Trump administration officials allegedly blocked her from appearing before the House committee.

"We would like to see Miss Yates at some point," Warner said. "But that's something we have to jointly decide on, when to take place."

The chairmen declined to say at this point whether President Trump was involved in any Russian activities — "We won't take a snapshot in time and make any observations on it," Burr said — but Warner gave a snapshot of Moscow's efforts during the election.

"We know about the hacking and the selective leaking of information," he began, saying some intelligence reports disclosed "there were upwards of a thousand paid Internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect, taking over a series of computers.

"They can then generate news down to specific areas" — where, for instance, instead of getting general information about the election, a client might get a fake news story saying that "Clinton is sick, or Clinton is taking money from some source," he said.

In addition, a Google search might turn up stories on election from such Russian propaganda sites as The Russian Times instead of articles from legitimate U.S. news sources, Warner said.

"Let's be clear: I'm not here to re-litigate the election," the senator said. "But the fact is that we have to put the American public on a higher level of alert.

"This time, it was Russia. It could be other foreign nations, as well.

"We are in a whole new realm around cyber that provides opportunities, but also huge, huge threats for basic democracy," Warner said. "We're seeing right now."

Burr noted that France and Germany were having their elections later this year — and evidence points to Moscow's potential involvement in them — and raised concerns about U.S. contests in 2018 and 2020.

"What we might assess is a very covert effort in 2016, in the United States, is a very overt effort, as well as covert, in Germany and France," he said.

"We feel that a part of our responsibility is to educate the rest of the world about what's going on, because it's now into character assassination of candidates."

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The co-chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they have not coordinated their Russia investigation with the White House and pledged to work cooperatively to "get to the bottom of this."
Senate, intelligence, committee, investigation
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 05:01 PM
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