Senate Panel to Focus on Russian Influence, Cyber Campaigns

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is focusing Thursday on Russia as it holds an open hearing as part of its probe into Russian meddling in the November presidential election and any possible collusion by President Donald Trump’s inner circle.

The committee described Thursday’s session as a primer on the history and characteristics of “Russian active measures and influence campaigns,” and the country’s cyber capabilities.

Ahead of the closely watched public hearings, the committee’s Republican chairman and top Democrat pledged an exhaustive and impartial probe of Russian efforts during last year’s campaign.

“This investigation’s scope will go wherever the intelligence leads it,” Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said at a news conference Wednesday.

“We will get to the bottom of this,” concurred Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Burr said an “unprecedented amount of documents” have been received, and the committee is in “constant negotiation” with the intelligence community to gain access to additional material. He added that there will be at least 20 interviews to conduct, including with President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who volunteered to speak with the panel.

“The committee will conduct an interview with Mr. Kushner when the committee decides that it’s time for us to set a date,” the chairman said.

Neither Burr nor Warner revealed any conclusions reached so far, except Russia’s aims.

“Vladimir Putin’s goal is a weaker United States,” Warner said. “Weaker economically, weaker globally. And that should be a concern to all Americans regardless of party affiliation.”

House Intel probe in disarray

Until now, the House Intelligence Committee had taken the lead in the Russia probe. But that committee canceled open hearings this week amid a firestorm surrounding its chairman, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, who personally briefed President Trump on classified material he had not yet shared with the committee.

With the House panel seemingly in disarray, its Senate counterpart is now in the spotlight. Burr said he cast his ballot for Trump last November, but he denied that party loyalty would color his work.

Even so, a growing number of Democrats say the full truth may never come to light in Republican controlled legislative committees.

“I believe we also should be open to an independent, non-partisan commission designed solely to investigate what happened,” said Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who also serves on the Intelligence Committee. “We cannot allow political pressure or unsubstantiated distractions to get in the way of simply following the facts.”

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona echoed the call.

“I think it’s reached a new level where it requires a select committee,” McCain said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” television program. “There’s too many unanswered questions out there.”

Smear campaign

The White House has complained of a smear campaign against the president’s team, but acknowledged the need for investigations to proceed.

“We want this over as much as, I think, some of you. But we recognize that there’s a process that has to take place,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

That process could resound far beyond Washington. Chairman Burr said Russia is “actively involved” in upcoming elections in France.

Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson contributed to this report

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