It’s easy to forget that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Russia scandal is ongoing. The probe doesn’t generate a lot of attention or drama, but it’s been quietly proceeding in the background, and it’s likely the committee’s members will eventually release some kind of report on their findings.
But while we wait, there are some fresh questions surrounding the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). As NBC News reported yesterday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report noted that the senator apparently provided the White House with information on the Russia investigation after a private briefing with then-FBI Director James Comey.
Within a week of Comey briefing the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders about the FBI’s Russia probe in March 2017, Mueller wrote that then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn’s office was in contact with the North Carolina Republican “and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.”
As Mueller notes, it’s unclear if Trump was aware of the briefing at the time. But Annie Donaldson, who served as McGahn’s chief of staff, wrote then that “POTUS in panic/chaos … Need binders to put in front of POTUS. (1) All things related to Russia.”
According to Donaldson’s notes, which Mueller referenced, McGahn’s office was briefed by Burr “on the existence of ‘4-5 targets.’” It was not clear if Donaldson was present for that briefing, or was simply taking notes on something she had heard.
A spokesperson for the North Carolinian said in a statement that Burr doesn’t recall the conversation, adding, “[H]owever, any conversations between the two would have been in reference to the need for White House personnel to voluntarily comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation. If specific individuals were discussed, they would have been those known to the Committee, the White House, and the media. The Chairman’s stewardship over the Committee’s bipartisan and fact-based investigation over the last two years speaks for itself.”
I will gladly give the Senate Intelligence Committee credit for conducting itself in a largely responsible way, especially when compared to Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-Calif.) antics in the House. But as regular readers may recall, Burr has taken steps that have raised questions about his political activities.
In December 2016, for example, Burr said he was inclined to largely ignore the Russia scandal.
Three months later, Burr reached out to reporters, downplaying the importance of the Russia scandal, at the White House’s behest.
Four months later, Burr said that if Trump privately demanded personal loyalty from then-FBI Director James Comey, he wouldn’t necessarily see that as “wrong.”
More recently, in February 2019, Burr made comments about the “collusion” question that the White House loved, but which drew a sharp rebuke from his Democratic counterpart on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
These new revelations do little to bolster confidence in Burr’s efforts.