Policy

Senate Panel to Probe Links Between Russia, Political Campaigns

Burr and Warner statement says committee will ‘follow the intelligence wherever it leads’

Vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., left, and chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., confer before Tuesday’s hearing on Russian intelligence activities. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiry into Russian intelligence operations against the United States will investigate any possible links between Russia and American political campaigns, the panel said Friday.

The bipartisan investigation will also include a review of the American intelligence agencies’ assessment of what they say was Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including cyberattacks and other so-called active measures.

But the committee’s statement Friday evening saying that it would also look into counterintelligence concerns stemming from the Kremlin’s interference, including “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns,” marked a public shift for the panel.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., told reporters this week that the panel would not be probing possible ties between political campaigns and the Russian government. Questions about such links have come back into the public eye since the publication of a 35-page dossier this week that makes unsubstantiated claims regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Investigating possible ties, however, is a key concern of the committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner. The Virginia Democrat said during an open hearing this week on Russian intelligence operations that the panel’s inquiry must probe any links between Russian agents and American candidates or campaigns.

President-elect Donald Trump has denied the allegations and called the dossier, which was compiled by a former British intelligence officer for political opposition research, fake news aimed at undermining his legitimacy. U.S. intelligence chiefs reportedly briefed Trump on the claims when they also presented him with their official report on Russian meddling in the election.

In a joint statement, Burr and Warner said the panel’s inquiry into Russian operations “will follow the intelligence wherever it leads.”

The committee will hold open hearings, interview senior officials of both the incoming and outgoing administrations, and issue subpoenas to compel testimony, if necessary. When finished, it will produce a classified and unclassified report of its findings.

“We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right,” Burr and Warner said. “We have received assurance from the Director of National Intelligence that the intelligence community will fully and promptly support our requests for information related to the investigation.”

Warner said Russia’s interference “impacts the foundations of our democratic system,” and therefore requires “a full, deep and bipartisan examination.” He said the committee is best positioned to conduct such an investigation, but if it cannot do it properly he will support legislation to empower “whoever can do it right.”

Many Democrats, including the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, have called for a special committee or independent commission to investigate Russia’s campaign targeting the presidential race.

Burr told reporters Thursday that the committee would not look into possible contacts between U.S. political campaigns and the Russians. Burr's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.

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