Partisan discord tainting probes of Russia, Trump, election
WASHINGTON — Partisan discord is seeping into House and Senate intelligence committee investigations of the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether President Donald Trump has ties to Russia.
Both Republicans and Democrats say they can still conduct bipartisan probes, but there are renewed calls for a special prosecutor and revelations that the White House enlisted GOP chairmen of the intelligence committees to push back against news reports suggesting Trump advisers were in contact with Russians.
The issue will likely surface at Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing for Dan Coats, a former senator from Indiana who is Trump’s pick to be the next national intelligence director.
Federal investigators have been looking into possible contacts between Trump advisers and Russia for months, along with Russia’s role in political hacking during the campaign. Trump has denied knowing that any of his campaign advisers were in contact with Russians during the campaign. He has also said he has no financial ties or other connections to Russia.
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said he wasn’t taking questions about whether the White House enlisted him to talk to reporters, as reported by The Washington Post.
“I’m in a comfortable place. I didn’t do anything to jeopardize my investigation,” Burr told The Associated Press on his way out of the Capitol after Senate votes Monday night.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, said if Burr did call reporters at the behest of the White House, it would be troubling. “If these reports are true, I think it’s going to be very hard to convince the public that there could be an impartial inquiry,” Wyden said.
On the House side, there was a simmering dispute Monday between the intelligence committee’s top Republican and Democrat.
The GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said that so far, he has not received any evidence from the intelligence community that anyone in Trump’s orbit was in contact with Russians during the presidential campaign.
Nunes — a member of Trump’s presidential transition team — has said the White House asked him to talk with one reporter about the matter, but didn’t give him any guidance on what to say. He said he told that reporter the same thing he’s said to many other reporters in the course of discussions.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, also of California, said the committee has not reached any conclusion on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Russian officials or any Russian contacts.
“Nor could we,” he said. “We have called no witnesses thus far. We have obtained no documents on any counterintelligence investigation and we have yet to receive any testimony from the FBI of potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
Mostly Democrats have requested a special prosecutor, saying they worry that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who worked on Trump’s presidential campaign, is not in a position to oversee such an investigation
“I would recuse myself from anything that I should recuse myself on,” Sessions said Monday.