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Senators: Russia interferred in election, ‘collusion’ still open

Sen. Mark Warner, left, and Sen. Richard Burr,

Sen. Mark Warner, left, and Sen. Richard Burr, at a news conference in Washington, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, discussed an Intelligence Committee probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Credit: Bloomberg News / Andrew Harrer

WASHINGTON — The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that the “general consensus” of its investigation is that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, but that “the issue of collusion is still open.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the panel’s chair, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chair, also warned that Russia is still very active in the United States and will seek to disrupt and divide in upcoming elections, citing its attempt last year to hack into 21 state election systems.

“The Russian intelligence service is determined, clever and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously as we move into this November’s election and as we move into preparation for the 2018 election,” Burr said.

Burr and Warner said their investigation largely confirms the U.S. intelligence community assessment (ICA) that Russia interfered in the presidential election. “We feel very confident that the ICA’s accuracy has been verified by our committee,” Burr said.

But they said they are still investigating the assessment’s determination that Russia weighed in on the side of Republican candidate Donald Trump and sought to hurt the chances his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, or whether Trump’s campaign colluded.

“We’re not willing to close the issue given the nature of the rest of the investigation . . . so we’re leaving it open,” Burr said “It’s not closed.”

Burr and Warner delivered the first review in several months of their investigation into the Russian role in the 2016 election, saying the scope of their initial investigations has expanded and that they still had work to do, including 25 more interviews this month.

The committee will hold an open hearing on Oct. 25 with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, whose earlier closed-door hearing was canceled after he distributed his opening statement against committee rules, Burr said.

And the committee has invited the heads of Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify in an open hearing on Nov. 1, Burr said, as part of the investigation into the use of ads and messages to spread divisive messages in several states.

Warner said more needs to be done to combat the tools that Russia has used to interfere in U.S. elections, such as its attempts to hack into state election systems and its use of social media to spread discord.

“We need to be on guard,” Warner said. “There needs to be a more aggressive whole of government approach in terms of protecting our electoral process.”

The committee also is investigating the Obama administration’s response to Russian election interference, the Donald Trump Jr. meeting with Russians after they indicated they had damaging information about Clinton and the changes in the GOP platform on Ukraine.

Burr said “the committee has hit a wall” in its investigation of the Steele dossier because its author, former British spy Christopher Steele, refuses to talk to the committee.

The report identified Russian businessmen and others whom U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded are Russian intelligence officers or working on behalf of the Russian government. The dossier implicates Cohen and includes a lurid description of Trump that the president has denied.

Burr also said the committee will not reach a conclusion about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, referring those interested in the firing to special counsel Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice.

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