The Senate Investigation into Trump-Russia is a Hot Mess

by Aaron Rupar –

And so is the House’s, and so is the DOJ’s…

About two months ago, news emerged that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) had made calls to reporters as part of a White House-directed effort to tamp down reports about contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence officials.

That news rightfully drew into question Burr’s ability to oversee an impartial investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. In late March, however, Burr and Senate Intelligence Committee held a joint news conference where they portrayed themselves as ready to work together in a bipartisan effort to get to the bottom of Trump’s Russia ties.

But on Monday, both the Daily Beast and Yahoo reported that the Senate investigation of Trump-Russia is a mess, in large part because Burr is obstructing things.

Burr’s committee “has yet to issue a single subpoena for documents or interview any key witnesses who are central to the probe,” Yahoo reports, citing multiple sources involved in the probe. It hasn’t “requested potentially crucial evidence — such as the emails, memos and phone records of the Trump campaign — in part because the panel’s chairman, [Burr], has so far failed to respond to requests from the panel’s Democrats to sign letters doing so.”

“The investigation does not have a single staffer dedicated to it full-time, and those staff members working on it part-time do not have significant investigative experience,” the Daily Beast adds, also citing unnamed sources involved in the investigation. “The probe currently appears to be moving at a pace slower than prior Senate Intelligence Committee investigations, such as the CIA torture inquiry, which took years to accomplish.”

Warner is reportedly getting fed up with Burr’s obstruction, Yahoo reports. But the Democratic vice chair’s handling of the probe has “led to grumbling among some of his Democratic colleagues that he has been too reluctant to challenge Burr and press for more aggressive action — for fear of undercutting the perception that he and the Republican chairman are working cooperatively together.”

The Burr-Warner news conference happened while controversy swirled about House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) clumsy attempt to validate Trump’s baseless accusation that President Obama wiretapped him. After it became clear that the White House colluded in that effort, Nunes — who joined Burr in calling reporters in February in the White House-led attempt to tamp down reporting about Trump-Russia — recused himself from the House investigation.

But the person now leading the House investigation, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), has a history of making reckless claims in defense of Trump. In January, he compared Russian cyber attacks on Democrats to Mexican entertainers energizing Democratic voters.

So neither congressional probe into Trump-Russia appears to be serious or credible. Meanwhile, Mary McCord — the Justice Department officials tasked with overseeing the DOJ’s investigation of Trump-Russia — announced last week that she’s leaving her job next month for unknown reasons. As Business Insider reports, “McCord’s departure has raised questions about the future of the Trump-Russia investigation, which will be in the hands of Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, if and when he is confirmed.”

News of McCord’s departure, which broke before the latest reporting about the mess that is the Senate’s investigation of Trump-Russia, renewed calls for an independent counsel to be appointed.

“This just highlights how important it is that the Russia investigation be handled by an independent prosecutor,” Matt Miller, a DOJ spokesman under the Obama administration, told Business Insider. “Once Rod Rosenstein is confirmed, the investigation will be in the hands of someone who interacts with people in the White House on a daily basis, and that’s just not tenable. It’s even harder with the career official who has been handling it leaving the department.”

The only ongoing investigation into Trump-Russia that appears to be progressing is the FBI’s. During a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, Comey confirmed that he “had been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

But the FBI’s findings will ultimately be referred to the DOJ. So if Rosenstein is confirmed, that means a Trump appointee will ultimately make the call about whether the person he owes his job to or his campaign will be held accountable for any possible collusion uncovered by investigators.

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress