Days after the FBI privately revealed to Senate Intel Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and other key congressional leaders its investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia links, Burr “appears to have” provided the White House information on the probe, special counsel Robert Mueller said in the redacted report released Thursday.
The detail is based on notes that Don McGahn’s chief of staff took in 2017. The report leaves open the possibility the Burr may have been briefing the White House on the committee’s own Russia investigation, as McGahn and his chief of staff later claimed. But the report’s analysis treats such a claim with skepticism, since the notes used language that doesn’t make sense in the context of a congressional investigation and that track with the background materials the FBI provided the congressional leaders in its briefing.
Burr’s spokesperson did not respond to TPM’s inquiry. However, she told Politico that Burr “does not recall this specific conversation with Mr. McGahn in March of 2017.”
She added, “however, 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.”
“If specific individuals were discussed, they would have been those known to the committee, the White House, and the media. The Chairman’s stewardship over the Committee’s bipartisan and fact-based investigation over the last two years speaks for itself,” the spokesperson, Caitlin Carroll told Politico.
A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chair on the committee, declined to comment to TPM.
According to Mueller’s report, then-FBI Director Comey briefed Congress’ “Gang of 8” on March 9 2017. The “Gang of 8” refers to the leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress, as well as the majority and minority leaders of the intelligence committees in both chambers.
A footnote goes into more detail into exactly what the notes of McGahn’s chief of staff, Ann Donaldson, said and why it was plausible — and likely — that the information pertained to the FBI’s investigation.
According to notes taken by McGahn’s chief of staff, Sen. Burr briefed the White House on the Russia probe in March 2017, after the FBI’s Gang of 8 briefing on it pic.twitter.com/jIbKGmqi6r
— Tierney Sneed (@Tierney_Megan) April 18, 2019
At the time, very little was publicly known about the FBI’s Russia probe. Comey didn’t publicly confirm it until more than a month later. However there were already concerns being raised about Republican members of Congress — including Burr — running interference for President Trump in the investigations. In February it was reported that the White House tapped Burr, and his counterpart in the House, then-Intel Chairman Devin Nunes, to engage with news organizations on Trump’s behalf and spin against stories reporting the links between his campaign and Russia.
Warner at the time expressed “grave concerns” about what the collaboration meant for the independence of the committee investigations.
However, in the years since, the Senate Intel Committee’s Russia investigation has moved forward with less public drama and more bipartisan comity than the House probe. Burr was particularly troubled publicly by Comey’s firing in May 2017.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has already issued some bipartisan preliminary findings in its investigations into how Russia sought to influence the 2016 election. However, it has not yet released its conclusions on the Trump campaign aspect of its inquiry.