WASHINGTON — While House Republicans focused more on the leaks that led President Donald Trump’s national security adviser to resign this week, the GOP senator in charge of investigating the underlying issues involving Russia had a very different message on Thursday. Probing leaks, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters, is not the job of lawmakers.
Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that his job is to stay focused on the review of how Russia tried to influence the U.S. election, as well as recent revelations that former advisor Michael Flynn and others in the Trump campaign and administration had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials.
Burr’s committee launched the Russia review last year after the U.S. intelligence community released a report that concluded Vladimir Putin’s government had tried to influence the November election. The matter of Flynn and his interactions with Russian officials are now part of that work.
The senator suggested the leaks were important, but beside the point.
“I think that you can feel fairly confident that the FBI is doing their job. They are in charge of investigation of leaks,” Burr said.
Nevertheless, GOP House members have focused more intently on the leaks, mostly downplaying the idea of probing Flynn’s Russian interactions and subsequent false statements about them. Two House chairmen, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), wrote a letter to the Justice Department on Wednesday that said they had “serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified material here.”
On Thursday, Chaffetz showed somewhat more interest in Flynn, requesting information on how he was paid for a 2015 speech in Russia.
Burr was clear that he thought any sort of leak was important, but he was just as clear that Congress should concentrate on the underlying intelligence concerns about Russia meddling in U.S. affairs.
“We constantly have the responsibility about securing classified information, and when that’s leaked, we do exactly what’s being done. We ask the FBI to open up an active investigation. That’s been done,” Burr said.
“We’re not investigators. We’re an oversight committee,” he added. “And so let’s let the investigators do it. And that’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Burr’s remarks are just the latest sign of a growing divide in the way that Senate and House Republicans see the White House under President Trump.
House Republicans have tended to minimize the questions around Flynn, who initially said he’d had one discussion with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Inauguration Day and that they did not discuss the sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration. That was not true.
Republicans in the Senate have said Flynn should testify before the Intelligence Committee, possibly in public. They also want to hear from Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager who also reportedly was in close contact with the Russians.
Burr said his committee was still trying to figure out exactly what it wants to know from Flynn, but speculated that the former national security adviser could be called in relatively soon.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that long,” he said, adding that it “was very possible” Flynn would be questioned next month.