Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) shared information with the White House about the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report released Thursday.
The revelation is a blow to the perception that Burr has been relatively free from bias while conducting his committee’s own investigation into Russia’s support for Donald Trump. That image has become especially important since the Republican who led a similar inquiry in the House shattered its credibility by scheming with the Trump administration and pushing a conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama. Democrats ultimately saw that lawmaker, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as “deliberately dishonest.”
Now Burr may face similar rebukes.
Mueller’s report states that on March 16, 2017, the senator informed White House counsel Don McGahn’s office of “4-5 targets” of the FBI investigation into Russian interference ― the probe that eventually evolved into the special counsel investigation.
According to the report, those individuals include former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, campaign associate Carter Page and a person identified as “Greek Guy,” likely referring to campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Although McGahn and his chief of staff Annie Donaldson said they believed Burr was talking about his committee’s work and not that of the Justice Department, the special counsel’s team was skeptical.
Mueller’s team cited notes that Donaldson took on Burr’s briefing. Those materials “on their face reference the FBI, the Department of Justice, and Comey,” the report states, referring to then-FBI Director James Comey. The notes, the report continues, “track the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to” a group of high-ranking lawmakers that included Burr.
Donaldson “could not rule out that Burr had told McGahn those individuals were the FBI’s targets,” the report adds.
Burr’s Senate investigation has generally retained its reputation as being serious and bipartisan, even amid Nunes’ hijinks in the House and Republicans in both chambers defending Trump.
The senator has tried to sustain that appearance ― particularly after he faced scrutiny early in 2017 for contacting news outlets to downplay some reporting on Trump and Russia. Burr’s Democratic counterpart on the panel, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), has helped him project that appearance by avoiding public disagreements and closely coordinating the work of their respective staffers.
Thursday’s news could jeopardize that crucial relationship ― and one of the remaining probes into what really happened in 2016.
Marcy Wheeler, a well-respected writer on civil liberty issues, highlighted the Burr segment of the Mueller report on Twitter and called it evidence the Senate Intelligence Committee effort is simply “part of the pushback” to protect the president.
Representatives for Burr and Warner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.