In a reversal from remarks Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) made to reporters Thursday, the committee will investigate whether the Russian government had any ties to individuals associated with political campaigns during the past election cycle.
The news comes amid speculation over whether surrogates for President-elect Donald Trump were in contact with Kremlin officials during the campaign, and congressional pressure for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to reveal whether the agency is investigating the allegations.
In a joint statement sent early Friday evening, Burr and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the panel’s ranking Democrat, announced a committee inquiry into Russian intelligence activities related to the 2016 elections. The investigation will include “counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.”
Yesterday, Burr told reporters his committee would not be probing that question. “That’s not our role, no. We don’t have anything to do with political campaigns,” the chairman said at the time. He added that some of the allegations of contact between the Trump campaign and Russia were mere “speculation,” and that they “certainly” should not be included in his committee investigation.
The committee inquiry announced Friday will also include a review of the intelligence community’s assessment from Jan. 6, which concluded that Russia orchestrated a prolonged hacking and propaganda operation aimed at interfering in the U.S. elections.
“As part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s oversight responsibilities we believe that it is critical to have a full understanding of the scope of Russian intelligence activities impacting the United States,” Burr and Warner said in the statement.
“The Committee will follow the intelligence wherever it leads,” Warner and Burr said. “We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right.”
More evidence of possible contacts between the Russian government and Trump officials continues to come to light. On Friday, Reuters reported that Trump’s incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn held multiple phone calls with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. the same day the Obama administration announced retaliatory sanctions against the Russian government over election-related cyberattacks.