WASHINGTON — The vice chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee on Sunday re-affirmed how critical he feels his work is in looking into issues related to Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 election.
“I’ve said before: this is the most important thing that I’ve ever done in my public life,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told NBC's “Meet The Press.”
“And what I know now as I get more and more into this: I am going to double down on that statement cause it’s extraordinary.”
He pointed to FBI Director James Comey admitting at Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing that they are investigating both Russia’s work to try to influence the 2016 election as well as the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia.
“We know that the Russians both massively interfered in our elections with both hacking [and] they had a thousand paid Internet trolls that managed to take over and flood the zone with fake news," said Warner. "And we have a series of people that are very closely affiliated with the president who have had extensive ties with Russia — including 60 days into the administration where you’ve got the NSA, our national security advisor who had to resign, and the attorney general had to recuse himself because of those ties.”
This week, the Senate’s Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearing looking into Russia’s activities and possible connections to the Trump campaign.
“There’s a lot more smoke,” Warner said.
Asked whether the fire behind the smoke, he responded, "time will tell. What we do know is the Russians intervened and they are doing the same thing right now in France and Germany."
On the House side, a rift clearly appeared between the two top members of the House Intelligence Committee this week when Republican Chairman Devin Nunes announced — without informing his Democratic counterpart — that he had seen reports that members of the Trump transition team’s names were “incidentally unmasked” as part of some kind of undefined surveillance.
Warner said he still doesn’t know what Nunes was referring to.
“I am totally mystified by what Mr. Nunes has said,” Warner told “Meet The Press.” “And I've talked to my chairman, Richard Burr. He doesn't know. I've talked to Democrats, Republicans on the committee. I think it's fairly mystifying, if not outrageous, that he’d make these claims, then goes down and briefs the White House.”
While that visible gulf opens up between the two members on the House side, Warner defended his relationship with the Chairman of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.
Last month, Warner said he had “grave concerns” about the independence of their investigation after reports surfaced that the White House sought help from Burr and others to help knock down certain negative news.
"We've had some bumps," Warner said. “But I am working very closely with him right now,” adding, “I trust him that we will get this done. And we have a list of witnesses that I think you will see that is comprehensive. And we're going to talk to everybody involved.”