WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee will begin interviews with some of the 20 people it has targeted for questioning as early as Monday as it finishes reviewing secret documents in its probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, the panel leaders said Wednesday.
But the committee’s chairman and vice chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), said it’s too early to offer any conclusions on whether President Donald Trump or his campaign had coordinated with Russians during the last presidential race.
“We would be crazy to try to draw conclusions before the investigation is done,” said Burr, who called the committee’s work “one of the biggest investigation on the Hill I’ve seen in my time here.”
Burr said seven committee staffers with high-level security clearances have been combing through an “unprecedented” amount of secret and sometimes raw intelligence material as the panel’s members work to figure out what are the best questions to ask in the interviews.
The only target for questions who has been identified is Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, who will be asked about his meeting during the transition with a Russian executive of a bank under U.S. sanctions.
Warner said former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former adviser Carter Page also had volunteered to testify. But Burr said the committee would determine when it would be ready to interview them or whether they were even pertinent to the probe.
The initial interviews will be conducted privately, and staff is already talking to intelligence officials who helped write the Jan. 6 conclusion by the intelligence community that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, undermine the democratic process and denigrate Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Burr and Warner held their rare news conference the day before the committee’s first public hearing on Thursday, which will examineRussian capabilities to influence elections globally, including its interference in the last U.S. election and in upcoming French and German elections.
The hearings aim to “put the American public on a higher level of alert” for the 2018 election after there were reports of upward of 1,000 paid internet trolls spreading fake news in favor of Trump in the last election, Warner said.
Asked if he could be impartial, Burr, who voted for and supported Trump, said he puts his job as a senator above his party in this investigation. Warner said, “I have confidence in Richard Burr.”
The comity between Burr and Warner, and their jointly expressed determination to reach a bipartisan conclusion, stood in sharp contrast to the partisan sniping and gridlock engulfing the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and its top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), on Wednesday continued to trade barbs over an investigation that appears to be stalled for now after Nunes canceled the private and publics hearings scheduled for this week.
A day after Republican Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned the credibility of the House panel, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) called the House “paralyzed” on the investigation.
“I’m not optimistic just given the tone and the tenor and the various shots being taken by both sides. It sounds to me they are getting into a stalemate position,” Dent said. “I think we will have to rely on the Senate.”