WASHINGTON — The political fight over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is expected to explode next week when lawmakers reconvene on Capitol Hill for the first time since the public release of the report.
As the partisan caterwauling continues over what Congress should do next, two low-key senators will be leading discussions behind closed doors about how their own report should move forward.
Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia – the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – have been working largely behind the scenes on their own investigation into Russian election interference.
Their collaboration has been billed as an effort that’s remained largely bipartisan on a topic and in a political climate where work across the aisle is exceedingly rare. But a rift between Burr and Warner that spilled into public view earlier this year could deepen as lawmakers spar over Mueller’s public finding and as Democrats demand answers from Burr about new revelations about his communication with the White House about the FBI’s investigations.
Warner laid out his hopes for the Senate’s next steps in an op-ed published Thursday in USA Today, demanding that Congress investigate Mueller’s “sobering findings regarding the president’s attempts to obstruct justice.”
Warner wrote: “The special counsel’s investigation now confronts us with an important choice. We can overlook the president’s morally outrageous behavior; we can ignore the deep deficiencies in our laws and our defenses against foreign interference; or we can do everything in our power to make sure that what happened in 2016 can never happen again.”
Burr, on the other hand, has been cautious in his comments about the president. In a statement issued the day the Mueller report was released, the North Carolina senator didn’t mention Trump.
“I am reviewing Special Counsel Mueller’s report carefully. Furthermore, I look forward to presenting the American people with an accounting of the facts the Committee has uncovered as we conclude our own investigation,” Burr said. “It is my hope to release the first of our final reports in the coming weeks.”
Burr’s office did not respond to requests for comment about whether he plans to ask Mueller to testify before his committee, or whether the report raises new issues that the committee intends to pursue.
The Mueller report revealed that Burr apparently supplied the White House counsel’s office with information about FBI investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Politico reported.
Burr’s spokeswoman, Caitlin Carroll, told Politico that the senator “does not recall this specific conversation with then-White House counsel Don McGahn in March of 2017, but that “any conversations between the two would have been in reference to the need for White House personnel to voluntarily comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.”
A Democratic committee aide said the status of the investigation has been largely unchanged by the release of the Mueller report, although it’s a little easier to say with confidence that the Senate report will wrap up by the end of this year. The end of Mueller’s investigation could make it easier for the committee to get access to witnesses.
Warner issued a statement last week calling it “essential that Congress hear directly” from Mueller regarding his investigation. “The Senate Intelligence Committee continues its own investigation, and I expect to receive a full briefing, an unredacted report, and all the materials underlying the Special Counsel’s findings,” Warner said.
Warner’s office declined to comment on the revelations about Burr’s communications with the White House that were revealed in Mueller’s report.
But some think those revelations threaten the integrity of the Senate investigation.
“Burr has a lot of explaining to do,” said Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and director of CAP Action Fund’s Moscow Project. Read more