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Richard Burr Has Misled the Public About Russian Election Interference Before. He Can’t Be Trusted Now.

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13.02.2019

On the same day that North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr officially joined the Trump campaign as a senior national security adviser, the U.S. intelligence community released a statement that the Kremlin was trying to interfere in the election. But the senator already knew those facts and much more. Burr had been fully briefed, in secret, by the U.S. intelligence community a few weeks earlier. Senior U.S. officials told Burr that Russia’s interference was designed to support Donald Trump’s electoral chances. Burr decided to team up with the Trump campaign anyway, and hitch his own electoral fate in North Carolina to Trump’s political fortunes.

More than two years later, Burr now leads the Senate’s flagship investigation into whether fellow members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia’s efforts. As the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr’s work with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner on the investigation is heading toward its final stage. The committee is expected to issue its major findings in the coming months.

Burr has received remarkably favorable press coverage for his stewardship of the investigation. Many mainstream commentators have heralded his committee as a bipartisan effort to follow the facts and tell the American public what it finds. Closer observation, however, raises serious questions whether that’s how this chapter in the 2016 election saga will end.

What’s largely escaped scrutiny is the case of Burr’s own words and deeds during the 2016 campaign. It was impossible to put the pieces together back then. We now have a much clearer picture due to news reports, court filings by the special counsel, and congressional testimony by former administration officials. We have learned a lot about what Russia was doing, what the U.S. intelligence community knew, and what Burr was told. The picture that emerges is neither favorable for Burr personally, nor for what truths Americans can expect to receive from his stewardship of the committee in the months ahead.

It’s a remarkable feat that Burr has held the position of overseeing the Senate’s Russia investigation, given what was known at the time he assumed the role. It was well-understood that Burr did not remain on the sidelines during the 2016 presidential election. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr was a major catch for the Trump campaign when he joined as senior national security adviser on Oct. 7, 2016.

In a race for his own re-election at the time, Burr also tied himself closely to Trump. When the Access Hollywood tapes broke by happenstance on the same day that Burr joined the campaign, many Republicans took it as an opportunity to flee Trump. Burr instead embraced the beleaguered candidate and said that Trump had sufficiently apologized. Burr brushed off any criticisms of his closeness to Trump in the ensuing weeks. At his own campaign rally in Gastonia, North Carolina in late October, Burr told the crowd, “There’s not a separation between me and Donald Trump.”

With these facts alone, Burr might have been compelled to recuse himself from overseeing any Russia investigation if he had taken a position in the administration. Fellow traveler Jeff Sessions found himself barred from overseeing the Russia investigation as attorney general due to his own participation in the campaign’s national security group.

While Sessions’ hands were tied, Burr’s hands in the Senate were free. Burr’s control over the investigation would be decided essentially by his own conscience and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s discretion.

When Burr assumed the lead of the Russia investigation, it was not widely known that there was something entirely unique about his role on the Trump campaign. Unlike any of the other senior advisers who joined the campaign, when Burr signed up, he was privy to the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russian President Vladimir Putin was engaged in an effort to interfere in the election in support of Trump.

Since January 2015, Burr had been a member of the Gang of Eight—a group that consists of the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House and top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees. The U.S. intelligence community is able to share the nation’s most sensitive secrets with this small group without anyone else outside the administration knowing that information.

As far back as summer 2015, the U.S. intelligence community reportedly informed the Gang of Eight that Russia’s intelligence agencies were engaged in a hacking operation against the Democratic National Committee. That was many months before the DNC was aware of the breach, and months before the FBI reached out to the DNC to inform the organization.

In July 2016, when Trump called on “Russia, if you’re listening” to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, several Republican leaders directly and indirectly criticized him. A spokesperson for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican member of the Gang of Eight, said, “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”

Burr’s office, however, appeared to deflect attention away from Russia. A spokeswoman for Burr told Politico that the senator had said for “some time that foreign adversaries are intent on gaining unauthorized access into our country’s government and private networks to access sensitive data.” Politico noted that instead of talking about Trump’s statement, Burr’s spokeswoman “mostly focused on the FBI investigation of the recent hacking attack on the Democratic National Committee’s email servers,” telling the news outlet that “public discussion about attribution … are premature, at best.”

By that point, however, not only did Burr know that the intelligence community had attributed the DNC hack to Russia, but the U.S. intelligence agencies even likely knew in summer 2015 the specific unit and........

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