Unlike just about everyone else on Capitol Hill, the Republican and the Democrat who head the Senate Intelligence Committee have made a determined show of bipartisanship in their Russia probe. Soon that unity will be put to the test.
From the start of the Senate committee’s probe in January 2017, Chairman Richard Burr and top Democrat Mark Warner sought to work together. They made a strategic decision to issue reports initially on topics where they could reach shared conclusions, even as their counterparts on the House Intelligence panel publicly quarreled and ultimately issued competing findings.
As the investigation moves into its final stages, though, members will have to resolve lingering disputes, including whether to summon Trump’s son and son-in-law to public hearings. Ultimately, they’ll have to decide whether to find there’s evidence anyone close to Donald Trump colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. At stake is whether anyone in Congress can produce a bipartisan assessment the nation can trust, an elusive goal that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set last year.
Burr and Warner are under intense pressure from members of their parties, which are pulling in opposite
directions. A Senate Judiciary probe led by Chairman Chuck Grassley
and top Democrat Dianne Feinstein has devolved largely along separate, partisan tracks.
Democrats on the Intelligence Committee want their panel’s probe to delve deeper, while Republicans are eager to wrap it up well before the congressional elections in November.
“If it is purely partisan, I don’t think anybody will give it any credibility,” McConnell said. “So I hope those guys can stay together and tell us what happened and what we need to do to prevent it from happening again.”
This month, the Intelligence panel issued its first interim report on election security. While confessing its members lacked a firm grasp on the extent of hacking into voter systems in 2016, the committee said the US should “clearly communicate to adversaries that an attack on our election infrastructure is a hostile act, and we will respond accordingly.”
Three more reports are due in the next few months — including one on the intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment of Russia’s actions, which found the goal was to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help Trump. The panel plans to meet behind closed doors to discuss that assessment.
Another report will explore how social media networks were exploited. A third will evaluate how President Barack Obama’s administration handled early warnings from intelligence agencies of Russian meddling.
Through it all, Trump has kept up a campaign of tweets criticising Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia
investigation as a “witch hunt” promoted by Democrats and advanced by “tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State.”