The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday the White House has not contacted them about the investigation into Russian meddling in last year's election and vowed to conduct an independent probe as their counterparts in the House come under increased scrutiny.
"I have confidence in [Sen.]Richard Burr that we together, with the members of our committee, are going to get to the bottom of this," Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, said of his Republican counterpart.
Warner and Burr, the GOP chair of the committee, vowed to conduct an exhaustive search into the role Moscow played in the 2016 campaign and any links to President Donald Trump or his advisers. The 30-minute news conference featuring pledges from the two co-chairs to work together and let the facts lead the investigation was a stark difference from the drama unfolding in the House Intelligence Committee where every Democratic member has voiced a lack of confidence in the Republican chairman.
The senators provided a progress report of their work, saying the committee has requested interviews with 20 different people and is going through an “unprecedented amount of documents.” Five interviews have been scheduled and are set to begin as early as next week.
One of those who will be interviewed is Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who volunteered to appear before the committee, but it has not been scheduled yet.
The committee is hoping to interview Christopher Steele, the British intelligence official who compiled the leaked dossier commissioned by a political rival of Trump and his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, NBC News confirmed. But neither Warner nor Burr would confirm that Steele is one of the people they’d like to talk to.
Warner, however, did say that he’d like to talk to former acting attorney general Sally Yates. The senators added that the Trump administration has not tried to block Yates from testifying before the committee.
Burr said the investigation is being conducted entirely separately from the House Intelligence Committee probe into the matter that has come under intense scrutiny after Chairman Devin Nunes shared information with Trump before briefing fellow members of his committee. Questions continue to swirl around Nunes, an ally of President Donald Trump and a member of Trump’s transition team, and his ability to conduct a fair investigation into Russian interference into the U.S. elections.
Burr, also a Republican and an adviser to Trump during his transition, rejects the idea that he would be more loyal to the president than his role as head of the Intelligence Committee.
"I've got a job in the United States Senate and I take that job extremely seriously and it overrides any personal beliefs that I have or loyalties I may have," Burr said. "Mark and I may look at politics differently, we don't look at the responsibilities we have on the committee differently."
Warner said that Russian evidence proving interference into the U.S. elections should “send a chill” down anyone’s spine who believes in a democracy. And both Warner and Burr agree that similar tactics, including the hacking and leaking of selective information, the dissemination of “fake” news, and social media “bots” is currently being deployed in the French and German elections.
“This is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen in my ten-year tenure,” said Burr. “I said it was the most important thing I’ve ever taken on in my public life. I believe that more firmly now than even when we started. We’re going to get it right.”