Politics

Senate Intelligence Probe of Trump and Russia Grinds Forward

No one ever said it would be fast, but Democrats are frustrated about pace

Sens. Mark Warner and Richard M. Burr are slowly plodding ahead. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats may be frustrated about the pace of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but recent reports of trouble could be overblown.

A congressional source familiar with the committee’s work noted in particular the reported concerns about the Intelligence panel not having a full time staff for the investigation. The individuals detailed to work on the probe are spending roughly 95 percent of their time working on Russia’s activities in the United States, the source said.

The Daily Beast had reported that there were just seven “part-time” staff members working on the Russia probe.

There is reason for frustration about the lack of process, which is said to be shared in part by Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia, the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, said a person familiar with the senator’s views.

A source said there would be complications getting additional staff members the needed clearances and access from intelligence agencies to documents that had previously only been accessible to the “gang of eight” — the group of top congressional and intelligence committee leaders.

Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican involved in the investigation, responded to the reports with a Monday afternoon Tweet.

“Reports about #Russia probe are wrong. Don’t confuse silence for lack of progress. Intel Cmte must conduct classified investigations quietly,” Lankford said.

Before the two-week Easter recess, Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Warner appeared together to signal unity on the plan for the investigation.

“I’ll do something I’ve never done. I’ll admit that I voted for him. We always hide who we vote for,” Burr said at a news conference. “That’s part of the democratic process, 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 that I might have.”

Following the work of the Senate Intelligence panel can be maddening because it conducts its work in such a secretive manner, for obvious national security reasons. But aides on both sides of the aisle said Monday that it was their understanding the bipartisan work was continuing.

No one should be hoping for or expecting a quick result.

A source said the committee has now finished a first round of interviews with analysts from within the intelligence community, a process that will lead the committee staff to speak with additional people from the intelligence community this week.

The Intelligence Committee has not seen high-profile public hearings with figures from the Trump campaign or the transition, which may be some of the source of the frustrations that have begun to emerge with Burr.

According to a report from Yahoo! News, Burr has thus far declined to sign letters requesting e-mails and other records from President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign operation that might (or might not) point toward collusion between campaign officials and Russian operatives.

Burr’s office declined to comment for this story in response to the reported criticism.

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