Looks like whatever intelligence briefings members of Congress have gotten late this week have been enough to finally get Senate Republicans to agree to open an investigation of the incoming President.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said late Friday that his committee will investigate possible contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, reversing himself one day after telling reporters that the issue would be outside of his panel’s ongoing probe into Moscow’s election-disruption efforts.
Burr and the intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said in a joint statement that the committee's probe would touch on "intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns" as well as Russian cyberattacks and other election meddling outlined in an intelligence report released last week.
The committee will use “subpoenas if necessary” to secure testimony from Obama administration officials as well as Trump’s team, Burr and Warner said.
The bipartisan Senate announcement came hours after several House Democrats aired their frustrations with FBI Director James Comey following a classified briefing on Russian election disruption. The Democrats were livid that Comey refused to confirm whether he is conducting an inquiry into potential Trump ties to Russia — a question that he publicly declined to answer earlier this week.
Note that Burr was going to ignore Trump's Russia connections completely until the concerns about incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and FBI Director James Comey became too much to take.
Burr said late Thursday that he did not plan to touch on possible contacts between Trump emissaries and Russia, asserting that the issue likely falls under the FBI's purview. "We don't have anything to do with political campaigns," the Republican said.
But Warner had said during a Tuesday committee hearing that he wanted the probe to touch on possible contacts between Moscow or its emissaries and political campaigns, putting the two senators potentially at odds. Warner told reporters late Thursday that his view hadn't changed, meaning that the Friday joint announcement effectively brought Burr around to the Democrat's perspective.
Also note that the House side still won't budge on hearings, as the chair of the House Intelligence Committee is on the Trump transition team.
The Senate move also creates a split with the House, where intelligence panel chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told POLITICO earlier on Friday that Congress should not be investigating any possible contacts between Russia and the Trump camp.
"House committees don't go operational like that, that I know of," said Nunes, who is a member of Trump's transition team. "It's a law enforcement issue."
A Nunes spokesman said late Friday that the Senate's decision had not changed the House chairman's view.
The joint announcement from Burr and Warner commits the Senate intelligence panel not only to probing possible Trump-Russia ties, but also to releasing "both classified and unclassified reports" that will include its conclusions and holding some open hearings. However, "the bulk of the committee's business" during the investigation will be tackled in private, the senators said.
Again, I have abysmally low expectations of this investigation, but there's always the chance that Mark Warner may actually find something.