Senate Russia investigation is becoming less bipartisan — and could end with a no-conclusion conclusion
Donald Trump began the morning by tweeting that the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “There is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” But there are at least three problems with that statement. That’s not what the committee said. It’s not even what Republicans on the committee said. And it’s certainly not what the ranking Democrat on the committee said. And what looks like an irreconcilable split in the committee could end with it issuing a report that features a list of “facts” but draws no conclusion.
The actual reporting on the current state of the still-unfinished Senate investigation said that the committee had so far found no direct evidence of collusion. As several observers have commented, the word “direct” in that sentence is carrying a lot of weight. The Senate may not have found a “contract signed in blood saying, 'Hey Vlad, we're going to collude,” but it does have a contract signed in Moscow and New York saying that Trump had a deal on the line worth hundreds of millions; testimony from Trump campaign staffers about the numerous contacts they had with Russian officials; and evidence at every step of the way that the Trump campaign worked with Russia to maximize both the value of their stolen information and the impact of their social media campaign.
If the Russian intrusion into 2016 was any other crime, the Trump campaign knew about the crime while it was underway, met with the criminal, and provided material assistance to abet the crime. That certainly looks like conspiracy.
And as CNN reports, Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, explicitly rejected the idea that the committee has not seen evidence of collusion: “Respectfully, I disagree. I'm not going to get into any conclusions I've reached because my basis of this has been that I'm not going to reach any conclusion until we finish the investigation. And we still have a number of the key witnesses to come back.”
Though the Senate Intelligence Committee has been led by Republican Richard Burr since it began, Burr has been generally good at not doing what Republicans like Devin Nunes and Mark Meadows did in the House—turning the investigation into a get-out-of-jail-free card for Trump by ignoring evidence and issuing selective leaks. But the bipartisanship of the committee may not withstand the pressure Burr faces to give Trump a waiver.
Despite continuous media reports that the special counsel investigation under Robert Mueller is going to end any day now … any day now … any day … the evidence suggests that Mueller is continuing to open new areas of investigation. He recently asked that the term of the grand jury be extended by six months—the maximum time that could be requested; the raid on Roger Stone’s residence and workplace was staged not as an arrest, but as an evidence-gathering exercise; and there continue to be hints that Mueller is extending the investigation to look at Trump’s other foreign connections, especially the record amount of overseas cash funneled into his inaugural events.
The ongoing SCO investigation makes it unlikely the Senate is going to be bailed out of coming to some conclusion of its own by getting a peek at Mueller’s results. But at the moment it seems impossible for the committee to produce a report without landing in the same position as the House did, with a Republican-backed report that soft-pedals Trump’s Russia connections, over the objection of Democrats.
With Democrats protesting and Trump latching on to the idea that the Senate is going to match the nice present that Devin Nunes delivered, Burr looks and sounds very uncomfortable. In interviews on Tuesday, he agreed with Warner that the investigation wasn’t over, but stated again that the committee “doesn’t have any facts” suggesting collusion.
It seems likely that if a report comes from the Senate before the special counsel investigation is completed, that report will consist of nothing but a dry recitation of facts, most of which are already known. That’s not likely to be satisfying outcome for anyone but Trump, who will certainly take no answer to mean no collusion.
And while Burr has pointed out that the Senate has talked to over 200 people since the investigation began two years ago, there are some people it would still like to have in for a chat—including Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Rick Gates—who might just have some information on this topic.