The Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat warned the panel’s chairman over reports that the Republican worked with the White House to try to squash negative stories about Russian interference in last year’s U.S. elections, calling it a threat to the integrity of the top congressional probe into the issue.
Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said he expressed his concerns to Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, warning that he could pull the plug on what has been the one major congressional probe with bipartisan support.
“I have seen the press reports suggesting that the White House enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress to counter allegations regarding issues that are currently under SSCI investigation,” Warner said in a statement posted on his website late Friday. “I have called Director Pompeo and Chairman Burr to express my grave concerns about what this means for the independence of this investigation and a bipartisan commitment to follow the facts, and to reinforce that I will not accept any process that is undermined by political interference.”
The Washington Post reported Friday that Burr told them he had talked to reporters about reports of contacts between Russians and Trump associates. “I felt I had something to share that didn’t breach my responsibilities to the committee in an ongoing investigation,” Burr told The Post.
Warner said he will consult with the other Democrats on the panel to determine what to do next “so we can ensure that the American people get the thorough, impartial investigation that they deserve, free from White House interference.”
Warner last week said he had confidence in Burr, but that now appears to have been shaken.
“I have said from the very beginning of this matter that if SSCI cannot properly conduct an independent investigation, I will support empowering whoever can do it right,” he said.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, also warned about the reports.
“If Chairman Burr is discussing classified matters with the press and pre-judging the committee’s investigation, all at the behest of the White House, it’s hard to imagine how he could convince me or the public of his impartiality,” Wyden said in a email statement. “If that is the case, I intend to co-sponsor legislation creating an independent commission to investigate Russia’s interference in our democracy.”
Republican leaders have resisted calls from top Democrats for an independent commission or a select committee to investigate the issue.
Warner’s statement comes after Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who led the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during Barack Obama’s administration, called for a special prosecutor during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” that aired Friday.