How different from Nunes is Richard Burr?

How different from Nunes is Richard Burr?

by digby

Because he hasn't been out there openly working as an accomplice as Devin Nunes did, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr is being treated as an oracle of truth in the US Senate. This is incorrect. He is a super-partisan Republican from North Carolina who was a big Trump fan going all the way back in the campaign. He served as ne of his foreign policy advisers! In fact, he should have recused himself from the get. Ryan Goodman at Just Security has the goods:

On the same day that Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) officially joined the Trump campaign as a senior national security advisor, the U.S. intelligence community released a statement that the Kremlin was trying to interfere in the election. But the Senator already knew those facts, and much more. Burr had been fully briefed in secret by the U.S. intelligence community a few weeks earlier. Senior U.S. officials told Burr that Russia’s interference was designed to support Donald Trump’s electoral chances. Burr decided to team up with the Trump campaign anyway, and hitch his own electoral fate in North Carolina to Trump’s political fortunes.

More than two years later, Burr now leads the Senate’s flagship investigation into whether fellow members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia’s efforts. As the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr’s work with Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) on the investigation is heading toward its final stage. The committee is expected to issue its major findings in the coming months.

Burr has received remarkably favorable press coverage for his stewardship of the investigation. Many mainstream commentators have heralded his committee as a bipartisan effort to follow the facts and tell the American public what it finds. Closer observation, however, raises serious questions whether that’s how this chapter in the 2016 election saga will end.

What’s largely escaped scrutiny is the case of Burr’s own words and deeds during the 2016 campaign. It was impossible to put the pieces together back then. We now have a much clearer picture due to news reports, court filings by the special counsel, and congressional testimony by former administration officials. We have learned a lot about what Russia was doing, what the U.S. intelligence community knew, and what Burr was told. The picture that emerges is neither favorable for Burr personally, nor for what truths Americans can expect to receive from his stewardship of the committee in the months ahead.

It’s a remarkable feat that Burr has held the position of overseeing the Senate’s Russia investigation given what was known at the time he assumed the role. It was well understood that Burr did not remain on the sidelines during the 2016 presidential election. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr was a major catch for the Trump campaign when he joined as senior national security advisor on Oct. 7, 2016.

In a race for his own reelection at the time, Burr also tied himself closely to Trump. When the Access Hollywood tapes broke, by happenstance on the same day that Burr joined the campaign, many Republicans took it as an opportunity to flee Trump. Burr instead embraced the beleaguered candidate and said that Trump had sufficiently apologized. Burr brushed off any criticisms of his closeness to Trump in the ensuing weeks. At his own campaign rally in Gastonia, North Carolina in late October, Burr toldthe crowd, “There’s not a separation between me and Donald Trump.”

With these facts alone, Burr might have been compelled to recuse himself from overseeing any Russia investigation if he had taken a position in the administration. Fellow traveler Jeff Sessions found himself barred from overseeing the Russia investigation as Attorney General due to his own participation in the campaign’s national security group. Department of Justice regulations state that no employee can be involved in an investigation if he or she had a “political relationship” with an organization that’s “substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation,” which the regulations go on to specify includes a “close identification with … a campaign organization, arising from service as a principal adviser.”

While Sessions’ hands were tied, Burr’s hands in the Senate were free. Burr’s control over the investigation would be decided essentially by his own conscience and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s discretion.

And yes, he is an accomplice. He's just smarter.

When Burr assumed the lead of the Russia investigation, it was not widely known that there was something entirely unique about his role on the Trump campaign. Unlike any of the other senior advisers who joined the campaign, when Burr signed up, he was privy to the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russian President Vladimir Putin was engaged in an effort to interfere in the election in support of Trump.
From Aug. 11 to Sept. 6, 2016, the C.I.A. organized “a series of urgent, individual briefings for [the] eight top members of Congress.” The C.I.A. informed Burr and the others that the U.S. intelligence community had discovered the Kremlin was working to help elect Trump and that “unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians.”

With this information in hand, Burr decided not only to join the Trump campaign and tie his political fate to Trump. Burr also took the now difficult-to-explain step of publicly repudiating suggestions that the Russians were acting in support of Trump. In an Oct. 3, 2016 interview, Burr said, “I have yet to see anything that would lead me to believe” Russia was interfering to benefit Trump. It was also a notable exception to Burr’s reputation for avoiding speaking with the press.

Most important, we now know that what Burr said in the interview was inconsistent with what the C.I.A had told him. Former C.I.A. Director John Brennan would latertestify before Congress that he had kept Burr and the others in the Gang of Eight fully informed.

“The full details of what we knew at the time was shared only with these members of Congress,” Brennan said. “The substance of those briefings was entirely consistent with the main judgments contained in the January classified and unclassified assessments—namely, that Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency, and help President Trump’s election chances.”

In summer 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies were tracking an additional threat from Russia, this one directed against the voting systems of different states. Again, Burr made public statements that were at odds with what he had been told by the U.S. intelligence community. In his Oct. 3 interview with Foreign Policy, the news organization wrote that “Burr said ‘actual manipulation of the vote can’t happen’ because the DHS has assured lawmakers that no U.S. ballot machines are connected to the internet.” (Foreign Policy also noted the discrepancy between Burr’s statement and the New York Times reporting days later that DHS was actively trying to protect states’ online voting systems against cyber threats.)

What’s worse, we now know that DHS and the intelligence agencies secretly briefed Burr the previous month about their grave concerns of Russian threats to state voting systems. In early September 2016, President Obama had dispatched three senior U.S. officials including DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco, and FBI Director James Comey to brief the “Gang of Twelve,” a group that includes the Gang of Eight plus the chairs and ranking members of the committees on homeland security.

The White House wanted the congressional leaders to agree to “a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions,” the Washington Post reported. McConnell nixed the idea and remained steadfast despite Paul Ryan’seffort to persuade the Senate Majority Leader to change his mind.

Yet even McConnell’s stance—declining to issue a joint public statement—was far shy of Burr’s tack of making public statements inconsistent with the intelligence information.

Over the course of September, other members of the Gang of Twelve publicly referred, in broad terms, to what they had been told in the intelligence briefings. Burr then cast doubt on their presentation of the facts.

On Sept 9, in a move perceived to break with Trump, Speaker Ryan called Putin an “aggressor,” and said, “It certainly appears that he is conducting state-sponsored cyberattacks on what appears to be our political system.”

On Sept. 14, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told CNN: “I have been briefed at a very high-level classified briefing on these Russian allegations. They are very disturbing. The idea of a foreign power, particular one like Russia, a foreign adversary, attempting to mess with our elections — and Director Comey basically told us that the motivation was to undermine the integrity of the American political electoral process.”

The following week, the ranking member of Burr’s committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), issued a statement saying, “Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election.”

Burr’s reaction? Like his spokeswoman’s statement that summer, he deflected attention away from Russia. He said that his fellow congressional members’ warnings were “probably incorrect,” and that “they give the impression there’s one cyber-problem in the world: Russia and the elections, and that’s a huge understatement.” It is not clear specifically which of his congressional colleagues’ warnings Burr was referencing at the time.

There's more. Much more. I urge you to read it. I didn't know the half of it and I rea a LOT about this stuff.

Goodman winds up with this:

Here are 10 data points to consider:

1. Burr tried to kill the collusion inquiry from the start.

Burr announced that the committee would exclude possible collusion from the scope of the investigation, a move he made with no advance notice to Ranking Member Warner.

2. Burr reversed under pressure.

Burr reportedly backed down only after Democrats threatened to boycott the investigation if the question of collusion was not included as a topic.

3. Caught in the act — working secretly on behalf of the White House.

The Washington Post revealed that the White House secretly enlisted Devin Nunesand Burr to contact news organizations to challenge the New York Times’ reporting on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. The Post notably wrote, “Unlike the others, Nunes spoke on the record.” That was better than what Burr had done. (Also of note, CNN and Reuters independently confirmed the New York Times’ reporting.)

Burr’s conduct was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Burr had been put “on notice,” and that Burr’s conduct “certainly gives the appearance, if not the reality, of a lack of impartiality.” Warner said he had “grave concerns” about Burr’s conduct. Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), both members of the intelligence committee, also issued critical statements.

4. Credit where credit is not due.

Burr has been credited with not appearing at functions with President Trump and limiting any trips to the White House, but he took this step only after being chastenedby the Post report on his and Nunes’ conduct.

5. A painfully slow start. No subpoenas and lack of requests for evidence.

In April 2017, Michael Isikoff reported, “The committee has yet to issue a single subpoena for documents or interview any key witnesses who are central… It also 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, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has so far failed to respond to requests from the panel’s Democrats to sign letters doing so, the sources said.”

6. Understaffed.

“The [Senate Intelligence Committee] 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 reported in April 2017. In a Feb. 2019 interview, Burr defended never hiring outside full-time professional investigators. Outside investigators, he said, “would’ve never had access to some of the documents that we were able to access from the intelligence community.” But it’s unclear why the committee could not use outside professional investigators or attorneys who have the required security clearances.

7. Statement on assessing the success of Russian interference.

In a widely watched November 2017 hearing, Burr used his opening remarks to claim that Russian influence operations could not be shown to have affected the election, and that a contrary view was biased. Burr said: “I want to use this forum to push back on some narratives that have sprung up around the subject. A lot of folks, including many in the media, have tried to reduce this entire conversation to one premise; foreign actors conducted a surgical, executed covert operation to help elect a United States president. I’m here to tell you this story does not simplify that easily.”

Burr continued, “What we cannot do … is calculate the impact that foreign meddling had on this election. It’s human nature to make the complex manageable and determine things that fit your conclusions. That’s bias.”

8. Encouraging Trump’s attempts to discredit former senior intelligence officials.

When President Trump decided to revoke the security clearances of former senior intelligence officials, Burr quickly and strongly supported the president. (Notably, Burr issued a statement saying a New York Times op-ed that John Brennan wrote justified the President’s revoking the former CIA Director’s clearances. This was unusual reasoning since Brennan wrote the op-ed following the President’s deciding to revoke Brennan’s clearances.)

9. Vetoing public hearings.

Burr categorically rejects any public hearings with Trump campaign associates, despite Warner’s requests and despite the fact that the committee has held several public hearings, including on Russia’s manipulation of social media platforms.

10. Defying his own rules on speaking to the press about the committee’s work.

Burr has now repeatedly told media outlets that he has seen no evidence of collusion. The first occasion was in an Associated Press interview in September 2018. In the same article, the Associated Press reported that Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)“says Burr started every meeting at the beginning of the probe by asking senators not to talk to the media ‘until we get additional facts and we put things out together.’” In 2014, Burr said, “I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly.”

In Watergate Howard Baker got credit for being the guy who said "what did the president know and when did he know it?" as if he was
tracking down the truth. He was atually trying to cover for Nixon and was feeding him information about the investigation on the sly.

It's likely Burr is playing a similar role here.

The media needs to be a little less credulous about his alleged integrity.