U.S. Sen. Richard Burr this week defended his remarks to reporters about reports of contacts between Russians and associates of President Donald Trump, and he explained why he hasn’t held town halls in North Carolina.
Burr spoke with Tim Boyum of Time Warner Cable News on Monday, following a weekend in which the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman faced criticism that he’s worked with the Trump administration to discredit negative stories about Russian interference in the presidential election.
The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, has said Burr’s action could pose a threat to the integrity of the congressional probe into the issue.
Burr told TWC News that he “didn’t do anything inappropriate or in any way compromise the integrity of the investigation.”
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He said he talked with two reporters about a New York Times article describing phone records and call logs that indicated Trump campaign aides had spoken with Russian intelligence officials ahead of the election. Burr said he’d called FBI officials who told him there were no such records.
“There was no classification of the information” he received from the FBI, he said in the TV interview. “I believe that when you hear something that’s false, you have an obligation to go out and say it.”
Burr was also asked if he thinks a special prosecutor is needed in the investigation of possible Trump ties to Russia. “If at the end of (the Intelligence Committee’s probe) we found a reason to have a special prosecutor, I would gladly go out and call for one,” he said. “But there’s been nothing to suggest that this rises to the level of a special prosecutor.”
Burr’s comments in the TV interview prompted further criticism from the liberal group American Bridge. “Sen. Richard Burr cannot be trusted to run an unbiased, nonpartisan investigation because of his work as a White House surrogate,” spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said. “It is time for Burr and all Republicans in Congress to immediately support an independent investigation to ensure transparency and impartiality.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and Senate Intelligence Committee member, weighed in on the issue Wednesday. “If what Chairman Burr said was accurate and he talked to reporters on behalf of the White House, it is going to be quite hard to convince the public you are going to get an impartial process,” Wyden said during a news conference.
After facing pressure to hold town hall events during the congressional recess, Burr told TWC that he has never held town halls and prefers to hold individual meetings with constituents and “tele-town hall meetings” where tens of thousands of people can join a call.
“I got beat up last week because I was overseas doing my job,” Burr said, noting that he was out of the country speaking with British, French and German officials about Russia and its “aggression on the European continent.”
Watch the full interview with Burr here.
McClatchy reporter Matthew Schofield contributed to this report.