Editorials

Sen. Burr has a big job in investigating Russia. Why is he so thin-skinned about it?

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., update reporters on the status of their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, at the Capitol in Washington in 2017.
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., update reporters on the status of their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, at the Capitol in Washington in 2017. AP

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is mighty thin-skinned these days.

Burr, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has one of the highest-profile jobs in Washington. He’s leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

In an editorial last week, we urged Burr to tell some of the loudest partisan voices on the matter to pipe down while he and others pursue the facts. That prompted Burr to write us a letter of complaint, which we published.

Burr said the editorial “ultimately decided I’m not doing a good enough job in my investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.”

Actually, the editorial didn’t say that —or anything close to that. It said, “Burr would serve the country well during this super-heated moment by lending his measured voice to correct some of the inflammatory remarks made by elected officials, especially President Trump.”

Trump had said a Republican memo from the House Intelligence Committee “totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe” and “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans....”

We suspect Burr is so defensive because he knows we made a fair point. After all, Burr’s Republican colleague, Sen. John McCain, made the same point we urged Burr to make.

“The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests — no party’s, no president’s, only [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s,” McCain said. “The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows.”

We’re flattered Sen. Burr cares so much about what we think. It’s not too late for Burr to release a statement, perhaps with Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking committee Democrat, that says something like: “The Senate Intelligence Committee will not be drawn into partisan arguments about the investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. We urge our colleagues in both parties, as well as President Trump, to refrain from drawing conclusions until all the facts are in. We are conducting an independent investigation rooted in fact and we will follow the facts where they lead us.”

In his letter to us, Burr wrote that he couldn’t earn the praise of The News & Observer’s editorial board “outside of changing my party affiliation to Democrat.”

We don’t want you to change your party affiliation, Senator. We just want you to be yourself—your best self. In this case, that means leading a dispassionate, nonpartisan, fact-oriented investigation, and reminding the American people, amidst much partisan flailing, that’s what you intend to do.

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