WASHINGTON — Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr on Friday submitted the final report in the panel’s three-year Russia investigation to the intelligence community for a declassification review. The move came hours before he was to temporarily step aside as chairman of the panel.
The report on the panel’s counterintelligence findings – including whether President Donald Trump’s campaign co-ordinated with Russia — marks the conclusion of its Russia probe, which it first launched in January 2017. But the panel did not immediately release any of the findings and instead asked the intelligence community to quickly allow the release of a declassified version of the report.
Burr said Thursday that he would temporarily give up his chairmanship after federal agents examining his recent stock sales showed up at his home Wednesday with a warrant to search his cellphone. Friday was his last day in the position.
The Justice Department is investigating whether Burr exploited advance information when he unloaded as much as $1.7 million in stocks in February, days before the coronavirus pandemic caused markets to plummet. Burr has denied any wrongdoing.
The final submission brought an unceremonious end to the yearslong investigation that occasionally landed Burr, a North Carolina Republican, in trouble with his own party. It had been the final known investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia that was still active.
Burr worked closely with the top Democrat on the panel, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, on a bipartisan basis to uncover Russia’s attempts to sow chaos in American elections. The committee had particular success in pushing social media companies to publicly reveal that Russia had used their platforms for misinformation and to make subsequent reforms to prevent such interference in the future.
Committee members have remained quiet on the panel’s conclusion on whether Trump’s campaign co-ordinated with Russia. But Burr has said several times that he has seen no evidence of such collusion, a conclusion that would be in line with the House Intelligence Committee’s own Russia report in 2018. It is unclear if the panel’s Democrats would endorse such a determination, even though the first four reports from the Senate committee were bipartisan.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller also investigated whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia. Mueller’s report, released in April 2019, identified substantial contacts between Trump associates and Russia but did not allege a criminal conspiracy between his campaign and the Kremlin. Mueller also examined about a dozen possible instances of obstruction of justice and said he could not exonerate the president on that point.
The Senate panel also sent its other four reports to the intelligence community for declassification and in some cases waited years for a response. In the other cases, however, the panel released its general findings first.
The prior reports looked at Russia’s social media interference, election security, the response of the Obama administration to the Russian meddling and the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment that Russia had intervened in Trump’s favour. The committee endorsed that assessment in a bipartisan report this year.
Burr will continue to serve on the committee, and the panel’s work will continue as usual, including a vote next week to approve the nomination of Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence. The committee will vote on Ratcliffe’s nomination Tuesday, according to a committee aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss it before it was announced.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet said who will temporarily replace Burr as chairman. Next in seniority is Idaho Sen. James Risch, who told reporters on Thursday that he didn’t know whether he would keep his current perch as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or move to the intelligence panel.
Following him is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who now heads the Senate Small Business Committee. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who chairs the Senate Aging Committee, is third in line.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.
Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press