Senate Intel: ‘General Consensus’ Is To ‘Trust’ IC Assessment Of Russia Meddling

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speak during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 29, 2017, on the Committee's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh/AP

The “general consensus” of the Senate Intelligence Committee thus far is that the  intelligence community was correct in assessing that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election, the committee chairman said Wednesday.

“Given that we have interviewed everybody that had a hand in the ICA [Intelligence Community Assessment], I think there is general consensus among members and staff that we trust the conclusions of the ICA,” Senate Intel Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) said in a briefing to update reporters on the status of his committee’s Russia investigation.

The committee’s consensus view is not its final finding, Burr said, and the question will remaining open until the committee’s investigation is complete, which could take many more months.

But the signal Burr gave that his committee’s investigation had not found reasons to push back on the intelligence community’s conclusions, which it issued in a report in January, runs counter to some doubts that President Trump and his allies have cast that Russia sought to interfere in the election.

Despite more or less endorsing the January report, Burr at one point distanced his committee from one of the report’s key conclusions: that the Russian campaign was oriented towards discrediting Hillary Clinton and boosting Donald Trump.

“Russian involvement in the election question—we’re in agreement on that,” Burr said, “We have not come to any determination on collusion or Russia’s preferences.”

Pointing to what has so far been revealed about Russia’ social media activity, Burr added that, “there’s no way that you can look at that and say that was to help the right side of the ideological chart, and not the left or vise versa. They were indiscriminate.'”

Burr was joined by the Intel Committee’s Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) for the briefing, where they boasted about the 100 witness interviewed, the 4,000 pages of transcription produced by those interviews, and the 100,000 pages of documents overall the committee and its staff has reviewed for the probe, which began in January.

Burr said, however, that there was still much more work to do, even as he hoped to finish the investigation by the end of the calendar year.

“The issue of collusion is still open, we continue to investigate both intelligence and witnesses,” Burr said, adding that the committee was “not in a position to come to any temporary findings yet.”

At the outset of its investigation, the committee sought to review the intel community’s report, to examine any collusion between Russia and the U.S. candidates, and to assess Russia’s ongoing active measures. Burr said that since January, the investigation “has expanded slightly” in its interests.

He said that the committee has interviewed the seven participants at a April 27 meeting at the Mayflower hotel, during a gathering where then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak were in the same room.

Burr said that the committee found their accounts of the meeting “consistent,” but they’re leaving their findings open in case more evidence emerges.

The committee also interviewed those involved in the drafting of the GOP platform on Ukraine, which was notably softened to be more favorable to Russia during the Republican National Convention last year.

“The campaign staff was attempting to implement what they believed to be guidance to be a strong ally on Ukraine, but also leave the door open for better relations with Russia,” Burr said, adding that the inquiry is also still open for the remainder of the probe.

On the memos that former Director James Comey drafted before being fired by Trump, “the committee is satisfied that our involvement with this issue has reached its logical end as it relates to the Russia investigation,” Burr said.

Burr said that questions about Comey’s firing were better directed at the Justice Department and investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading.