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Senate GOP Split Over Investigating Trump’s Possible Russia Ties

Burr said Comey's ouster makes his panel's work more difficult. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — both Republicans with significant influence in the national security and intelligence spheres — are at odds over Congress’ role in investigating alleged ties between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government.

Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Thursday he is closing the door to any probe of the question in his committee. He also cautioned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation should not pursue some of the evidence suggesting that President-elect Donald Trump’s team collaborated with Russians.

“Until there’s proof out there that there was contact, this is speculation,” Burr told reporters. “And I don’t suggest that the FBI chase speculative things and certainly don’t include that in a committee process — that I take very, very seriously — about Russian active measures.”

Separately, Graham told reporters Thursday that he plans to speak with the FBI about any possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, he suggested he would employ the committee’s role of oversight of the FBI to press the issue.

“I will be heading oversight of the FBI’s role in what happened and what we can do in the future. And I will be talking to the FBI about what they feel comfortable discussing publicly,” he said.

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed News published an unsubstantiated opposition memo about Trump alleging, among other things, extensive ties between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.

Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid made similar allegations in October 2016, accusing the FBI of sitting on “explosive” information about Trump’s Russia ties.

In Tuesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Democratic and independent senators hinted at the existence of an FBI investigation into ties between the Russian government and 2016 presidential campaigns. They urged FBI Director James Comey to publicly confirm the investigation.

In the same hearing, ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked Burr to make the potential ties between the Russian government and the presidential campaigns a focus of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the election process.

On Thursday, Burr made clear his refusal to entertain that prospect. “That’s not our role,” he said. “We are doing an investigation into Russian active measures and influence in the election.”

Asked why a connection between the Russian government and a presidential campaign wouldn’t constitute an active measure, Burr said he didn’t want to get “technical.”

“I was asked to look at Russian active measures in our election process,” Burr said. “That doesn’t have anything to do with it, nor is it the jurisdiction of the committee to get involved in political campaigns.”

Graham said he would “leave it to Senator Burr to do what he thinks is best in his committee.” He also said he would wait to see “what professional organizations have to say if there were any contacts” between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Graham said he’s open to moving forward through various congressional committees, which he sees as the only option in lieu of a congressionally-constituted select panel on Russian interference.

But, he added, “If I feel we can’t put the puzzle together doing it this way, I will let you know.”

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he believes a congressional investigation into Trump’s potential ties to Russia is necessary.

He said the ideal probe would be through a select committee or a public-private commission, but that the piecemeal congressional approach espoused by Graham may also be possible.

“And I may be a part of Graham’s effort, being on Judiciary,” Durbin added.