Burr leads Russia investigation toward credibility

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, and Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., left, talks after a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, and Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., left, talks after a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington. Associated Press

The Senate Intelligence Committee hasn't said what it has found about possible collusion, but it's producing plenty of evidence of cooperation.

It's between Republicans and Democrats.

The committee, which often meets behind closed doors, is that rarest of things in Congress, a panel in which Republicans and Democrats show mutual respect, eschew grandstanding and leaking and seem to be working together to do what's best for the nation.

Credit for that amity goes largely to North Carolina's Sen. Richard Burr, the committee's Republican chairman. He has set both an example and a tone for other committee members by working closely with committee vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat.

As a result, the committee's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — and the explosive issue of whether the Trump campaign colluded with that effort — has been quiet, but thorough and credible as it heads toward a final report that is expected to be released this fall.

"From the outset, Richard Burr and I decided we were going to follow the facts and go wherever the facts take us," Warner told USA Today. "We want this investigation to stand the test of time."

The newspaper also quoted Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican and committee member, praising Burr and Warner's commitment to working together.

"From the very beginning, Senator Burr and Senator Warner promised they would not surprise each other — that they would discuss everything together," she said. "That doesn't mean they don't have vigorous disagreements, but they are able to work them out."

Another member, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. said, "There is a general understanding on our committee that this is a very big, very important national security issue and that it will be helpful to the country if we can be united and try to bring down the drama and the noise."

That performance contrasts with the House Intelligence Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., quickly took the side of President Trump in claiming there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. The committee was split by partisan fighting and ended its work in March by issuing conflicting reports from its Republican and Democratic members.

Burr has had a few stumbles in what may be his most important role in a Senate career he expects to end after this term. He complied with a White House request to call reporters whose stories about the investigation were inaccurate, and he should have rebuffed the president more forcefully several times, including when Trump urged him to wrap up the committee's work quickly. Instead, he told the president the committee's work would end after it heard from all the witnesses who members want to question.

But Burr wisely has made it a policy to skip White House gatherings. And he stood with Warner and the nation's intelligence chiefs in stating that the evidence shows the Russians were trying to help Trump's campaign. On Wednesday, Burr joined House Speaker Paul Ryan in dismissing Trump's claim that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign.

Burr, much like special counsel Robert Mueller, has maintained a low-key and disciplined approach to the Russia investigation even as Trump, his lawyers and some other Republicans have ranted about it being a "witch hunt."

If a Republican-led committee can deliver a report that has strong bipartisan support, it will be a great service to a nation that needs to have its confidence in its elections and in the integrity of congressional investigations restored.

News & Observer reporter Will Doran factchecks Sen. Richard Burr's claims of uncommon transparency in the Trump, Russia investigation.