Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 14, 2014.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senate investigation into Russia scandal faces GOP resistance

Nearly a month ago, the top two officials on the Senate Intelligence Committee held a press conference to discuss their probe of the Russia scandal, and one could almost hear the sigh of relief from the political world. Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Va.), acting very much like grown-ups, said their investigation was on track, and operating in a cooperative, methodical, and bipartisan way.

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The point wasn’t subtle: while Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-Calif.) bizarre antics had derailed the House Intelligence Committee’s efforts, Burr and Warner wanted to reassure the public that we could have confidence in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s work.

So much for that idea. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff reports today that the Senate’s probe has not only failed to make progress, but it’s also “increasingly stymied by partisan divisions that are jeopardizing the future of the inquiry.”
The committee has yet to issue a single subpoena for documents or interview any key witnesses who are central to the probe, the sources said. It also hasn’t requested potentially crucial evidence – such as the emails, memos and phone records of the Trump campaign – in part because the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has so far failed to respond to requests from the panel’s Democrats to sign letters doing so, the sources said.

“The wheels seem to be turning more slowly than the importance of the inquiry would indicate,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 commission and former Watergate prosecutor, one of a number of veteran Washington investigators who have begun to question the lack of movement in the probe.
Democrats on the panel are “privately complaining” that the investigation is underfunded and understaffed, and it appears that those concerns are becoming less private.

Making matters worse, Burr has strictly limited committee members’ access to materials. The North Carolina Republican has also not yet signed letters to key members of Team Trump, seeking documents related to the probe.

The Yahoo News report added that the Senate Intelligence Committee “hasn’t even approached potentially key witnesses to schedule interviews with them” – including witnesses who’ve volunteered to make themselves available.

There’s no reason to be surprised. In mid-December, Burr said he was inclined to largely ignore the Russia scandal. In February, we learned that Burr reached out to reporters about the Russia scandal at the White House’s behest.

To think that a Burr-led investigation would be a dogged and independent pursuit of unvarnished truth was probably not realistic.

But let’s not lose sight of the broader context: the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation appears to be largely stuck; the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation is trying to regain its footing, but has been hampered by Nunes’ ridiculous behavior; and the Justice Department official overseeing the FBI’s counter-intelligence probe is leaving her post.

Bring on the special counsel.

Richard Burr, Russia and Scandals

Senate investigation into Russia scandal faces GOP resistance