Led by Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Senate Intelligence Committee held a press conference on Wednesday to say that his body’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election has not only “expanded slightly,” but no end is yet in sight for the probe. While Burr said that President Donald Trump’s dismissal of former FBI director James Comey is outside of their jurisdiction, he added that there is still more to learn about any supposed collusion between Russia and Trump’s organization.
The committee, said Burr, “has more work to do.”
“There are concerns that we continue to pursue. Collusion, the committee continues to look into all evidence to see if there was any hint of collusion,” said Burr.
“What I will confirm is that the Russian intelligence service is determined, clever, and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously as we move into this November’s election, and as we move into preparation for the 2018 election.”
Nonetheless, Burr appeared to dismiss the central tenet of anti-Trump critics who contend that the president won the November election through ballot manipulation. "We can certifiably say that no vote totals were affected, that the tallies are accurate, that the outcome of the election was based on the count of votes. They did not, in any way, shape or form, alter that," said Burr.
Committee vice-chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) claimed that Russian interference in American politics may have continued after Election Day. He sees a need for “an organized, whole-of-government approach” to address this meddling. Warner said that his colleagues on the committee are seeking help from social media entities to address the spread of false information on the Internet by foreign powers.
The Intelligence Committee has most recently focused on Russia’s manipulation of Facebook, Twitter, and Google to drive a propaganda campaign against Clinton while stocking divisions in the United States.
Burr and Warner said they have confirmed the conclusions made by the intelligence community under the Obama administration that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 US election.
Burr did not directly answer questions about the conclusions drawn by the Obama administration’s intelligence collecting that Russia sought to bring about Trump’s victory. "We have not come to any determination on collusion or Russia's preferences," Burr said. "It seems that the overall theme of the Russian involvement in the US elections was to create chaos at every level. And I would tell you the fact that we're sitting here nine months later investigating it, they have been pretty darn successful."
Burr issued a warning to future witnesses. "Future witnesses that we might ask to come in the future, I strongly suggest you come in and speak with us," Burr said. "If we believe that you have something valuable to bring to the committee, if you don't voluntarily do it, I will assure you today you will be compelled to do it."
Regarding the committee's examination of former FBI Director James Comey’s memoranda, Burr said that the panel "has reached a logical end as it relates to the Russia investigation." Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating possible obstruction of justice on Comey’s part.
Several public hearings are still in the offing. Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, has been invited to provide public testimony after he issued a statement to the media that denied any collusion with Russian officials. In addition, the Senate intelligence committee has invited executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter to testify publicly in October about Russia’s purported use of social media in elections. On Monday, Facebook provided Congress with copies of the 3,000 Russian-linked election ads it identified, as well as data including where the ads were targeted.
The Senate intelligence committee is one of three congressional panels that are investigating Russian election meddling and possible collusion, in addition to Mueller's investigation. Republicans who are in Trump’s corner are apparently losing patience with their Congressional leadership over the continuing investigations into the president. Among the loyalists are members of Congress, and rank and file Republicans. “Three investigations is just way too many,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), according to POLITICO. “Some of them need to step back and wait until we see what evidence is educed.” Signalling disappointment with GOP leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Lori Klein Corbin, a member of the Republican National Committee from Arizona, said it is they who are behind the probes. “The Republicans cannot get over the fact that Trump won and is our president.”
Former White House aide Steve Bannon called out McConnell and Ryan by name last week during a Fox News interview. “Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have allowed three investigative committees on Capitol Hill with full subpoena power, they're going after President Trump every day,” he said. In a “60 Minutes” interview in September, Bannon said that the investigations are an attempt by the Republican establishment to “nullify” the 2016 election.
Biggs of Arizona said that Democrats “view almost everything through a political lens.” Republicans, said Biggs, “don’t seem to do that as well.”