The Senate panel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election aims to finish its work by the end of this year and plans to double the number of witness interviews to nearly 90 before lawmakers break for the August recess, the Republican leader of the investigation said Wednesday.
“I’d like to finish by the end of this year, but that’s aspirational right now,” Sen. Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican, told reporters when asked about his timeline for completing a final report. “It can be done.”
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Burr said the intelligence committee’s GOP and Democratic aides have spoken to “well over 40” people — and a source close to the investigation characterized that group of witnesses primarily as intelligence community analysts and former government officials like Jeh Johnson, who served as President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security secretary.
“We’ve got a very aggressive schedule in July,” Burr explained. “We may double the number of interviews by the time we leave for the August recess based upon our schedule.”
The Senate panel is one of at least five committees digging in on various aspects of Russia’s role in influencing the campaign and the Cold War adversary’s ties to the Trump campaign. Much of what Burr’s secretive committee has done has taken place behind closed doors, though it held its seventh public hearing on Wednesday. And both the Senate and its House counterpart have issued multiple subpoenas, including to Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
On Tuesday, an attorney for GOP operative Roger Stone said the longtime Trump associate was preparing to testify July 24 in a closed session before the House Intelligence Committee, where he planned to explain his communications with Moscow-linked hackers and WikiLeaks, which published stolen emails in the heat of the 2016 campaign from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
While the Senate Intelligence Committee has also sought documents from Stone, Burr said on Wednesday that his panel still isn’’t clear an interview with him is necessary.
“To bring anybody in for an interview or for a hearing, you have to know what it is you want to ask them. We’re not there with Roger Stone. We still have a very difficult time understanding whether he has anything to contribute to our investigation,” Burr said.
Like Stone, several other former Trump associates have publicly signaled interest in speaking to Congress in attempts to clear their names, including former campaign communications adviser Michael Caputo, former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and Flynn, who requested immunity for his cooperation. But Burr said the committee was still going through the roster of potential campaign associates to determine who mattered to their probe.
“We have to separate what people say from what we find people do or did,” Burr said. “We’re methodically going through that process. Part of being able to bring some finality to this is chasing the issues that are most important that answer most of the questions versus necessarily taking a basket of folks who voluntarily at the beginning said, ‘Hey, hey I’d like to testify.’”
“They haven’t necessarily been high on our list because we haven’t identified high value to them,” Burr added.
Wednesday’s Senate hearing — a review into how Moscow has used cyber espionage and the spread of viral fake news stories to influence elections in Europe — garnered far less media attention than other recent high-profile sessions with former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that were televised live on the major cable networks.
Asked about a timeline for finishing up the Russia probe in the Senate, Democratic vice-chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was less committed to giving a specific target date. “I’m not going to try to get into predictions at this point,” he said.
“We still have all the individuals that were affiliated with the campaign that have been mentioned in the press as having potential contacts or ties,” Warner added. “We’re still in the process of reviewing their documents.”