Opinion

Sen. Burr, please defend our institutions

Factcheck: Richard Burr claims uncommon transparency in Trump, Russia investigation

News & Observer reporter Will Doran factchecks Sen. Richard Burr's claims of uncommon transparency in the Trump, Russia investigation.
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News & Observer reporter Will Doran factchecks Sen. Richard Burr's claims of uncommon transparency in the Trump, Russia investigation.

Donald Trump is on the offensive. While stumping for re-election recently, the president characterized top FBI officials as “scum” and “dirty cops.” “You have been looking at things you would not have believed in our country,” he told Sean Hannity, “corruption at the highest levels ... trying for an overthrow, and we caught them.”

It’s the latest salvo by a president who, up until recently, refused to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Emboldened by the attorney general’s promise he will investigate the investigators, the president has gone on the attack. It’s part victory lap, part defense against the Mueller report’s damaging descriptions of despicable behavior by the Trump campaign and the White House.

But it is hardly the first time the president has mocked U.S. law enforcement and “so-called intelligence” services, as he described them, questioning both their competence and political independence. Earlier this year, Trump disparaged intelligence officials as “wrong,” “passive and naïve,” prompting concerns that valued employees would leave because of the president’s withering criticism.

The fact is the intelligence community – of which the FBI is a part— did a good job of investigating Russian interference in the election. And few people know that better than Sen. Richard Burr.

Burr is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been conducting its own investigation of Russia’s actions. Last summer, Burr’s committee released initial findings, including its conclusion that the intelligence community’s work on Russian interference was “sound” and was not influenced by politics.

The intelligence analysts “were under no politically-motivated pressure to reach any conclusions,” the report stated. “All analysts expressed that they were free to debate, object to content, and assess confidence levels, as is normal and proper for the analytic process.”

Burr also concluded the now notorious Steele dossier “did not in any way inform” the intelligence community’s conclusions. Analysts treated it as “unverified information” so it “had not been disseminated as serialized intelligence reporting.”

The Senate Republican’s findings perhaps could have calmed the intense partisan divide over the Russia probe. But the Intelligence Committee buried the report in time-honored Washington fashion – by releasing it on July 3, when even the press corps was racing out of town for the long holiday weekend.

One can only speculate why the committee wanted to downplay its findings, but it’s likely the president’s upcoming Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin was a factor. It was only after Trump told a global audience that he believed Putin’s denials that Burr joined the chorus of U.S. officials who denounced Putin as a liar.

Five months later, after the report of independent analysis of Russian propaganda, Sen. Burr issued a statement that Putin’s intelligence had actively worked to divide Americans and “erode trust in our democratic institutions.” Sadly, the same may be said of the president’s tactics.

It’s hard to quantify the effect of Trump’s repeated attacks. The Wall Street Journal reported they jeopardize national security. Perhaps they are also partly responsible for the dramatic decline in Republicans’ confidence in the FBI.

Whatever the effect, it’s clear the country needs to heal. As the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Burr is in an almost unique position to help. Please, Sen. Burr, speak up.

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