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Burr could use position to calm political rhetoric

Trump Russia Probe Senate-3

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., in October update reporters on the status of their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, at the Capitol in Washington.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is a cautious guy. That’s a good trait for the senator leading his chamber’s Intelligence Committee.

In keeping with his deliberate style, Burr hasn’t commented on the report released by the House Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Burr’s staff said Monday he would have no comment, citing his committee’s ongoing investigation.

But Burr would serve the country well during this super-heated moment by lending his measured voice to correct some of the inflammatory remarks made by elected officials, especially President Trump.

Some background: FBI agents and prosecutors in October 2016 wanted a judge’s permission to spy on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who’d stopped advising the campaign near the end of that summer.

The Nunes memo says those agents and prosecutors failed to tell a judge that opposition research about Russian election interference was funded by by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The Nunes memo says that Andrew McCabe, then deputy director of the FBI, said that no surveillance would have been requested without the information from the opposition research. Democrats dispute that characterization.

Trump has used the Nunes report to say that the entire investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections is corrupt. “This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” he tweeted. “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans....”

If prosecutors did not reveal that the opposition research received funding from Democrats, they should have. But there are a number of facts that show Nunes’ conclusion — that the FBI and top Justice Department officials were “abusing their authority for political purposes” — was overstated:

■ Starting in October 2016, judges approved the surveillance of Page four times over the course of a year; each renewal required a separate finding of probable cause.

■ Page already was on the FBI’s radar as part of a separate investigation into Russian influence. Page bragged in a 2013 letter that he was an adviser to the Kremlin, Time magazine reported.

■ The Nunes memo confirms that the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, several months before the warrants were sought to spy on Page. The investigation was triggered by information about Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.

■ Among those signing off on the warrants was Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. He’s a Republican. So is FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned that “elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows.”

Amen to that.

Burr, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has a big platform. By urging the loudest partisan voices to pipe down and by re-stating his commitment to a quest for the facts, Burr could help win the confidence of the American people that their leaders are focused on determining the truth, regardless of where it takes them.

The News & Observer

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