WASHINGTON ― If there was anyone who should be up to speed on the latest intelligence information, it would be the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
But that’s not how Burr sounded Thursday night in his only reelection campaign debate with Democratic challenger Deborah Ross.
Perhaps it is a new version of the “Donald Trump Effect.” But where school kids and immigrants feel bullied, Republican lawmakers who both condemn and endorse the GOP presidential nominee instead become somewhat addled.
Burr started off on solid ground when moderator Jonathan Karl, of ABC News, asked him if, despite Trump’s denials, Burr agreed with the national intelligence community’s official statement that Russia was behind the recent hacks of Democratic officials.
“I will stand by what statement [the director of national intelligence] has made,” Burr said.
But then he wandered off into confusing territory, talking about Iranian hacking. Karl tried to bring him back on point by quoting the top Democrat on Burr’s committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who said earlier Thursday that Russia was trying to sway the presidential election for Trump.
Then Burr seemed to no longer understand the joint statement that the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, released, which said “the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” I also said that the “thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”
Burr, who is an official adviser to Trump on national security, insisted it was only about hacks of voter registration files.
“If you’re talking about the hacks of the Democratic Party, I’m not sure that the director of national intelligence specifically addressed who’s to blame for those,” Burr said.
“You don’t think the Russians are behind the DNC hacks?” Karl pressed.
“I’m not in a position that I could make a comment on it,” the Intelligence Committee chairman said.
Karl then read the official intelligence community statement to Burr, who still declined to accept its veracity.
“I’m not sure that the reports that you read are from official sources,” Burr said.
He also had confusing responses when his opponent, Ross, mentioned the hacking.
“Donald Trump has encouraged people to hack into our email servers,” Ross said, apparently referring to Trump’s recent invitation to Russia to try and find email that Hillary Clinton deleted from her State Department days.
“I think I heard Ms. Ross just say that Donald Trump has allowed people to hack into our email system,” Burr said, smiling incredulously. “I’m not sure how that happened.”
And maybe it’s because he’s an official adviser to Trump, but Burr also misspoke in a manner that suggested Trump was already in command.
“Jonathan, you know me,” Burr said. “I will help whoever is in leadership to try to bestow what I know and what I have learned as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I’ve done that for the Trump administration.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump