On Sunday, President Trump began boasting that he’d been cleared by the Senate Intelligence Committee of any wrongdoing in the 2016 election.
“Senator Richard Burr, The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, just announced that after almost two years, more than two hundred interviews, and thousands of documents, they have found NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA!” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Is anybody really surprised by this?”
Except….. that’s not the full context of what Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said. He indicated that his panel is getting close to closing the investigatory part of their inquiry and moving on to writing a report. Other members of the committee have suggested it could take as long as seven months to write their report. Burr also acknowledged that some people would see their findings (as they currently stand) as evidence of collusion.
“What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people,” Burr told CBS. “And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion.”
Up until the beginning of the new Congress in January, the Senate Intelligence Committee was leading the most aggressive congressional inquiry into the Russians’ role in the 2016 election. Unlike the House Intelligence Committee, they worked in a bipartisan way and didn’t divert their effort to running interference for the administration. They’ve uncovered plenty of damning information, but they haven’t found a signed contract between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Still, what the chairman said is that we’ll each get to decide whether his report indicates collusion. That’s not the same thing as giving the president a clean bill of health.
Their investigation is not over yet. They have reason to believe that some people they have interviewed did not tell them the truth. However they proceed from here, they will certainly not be taking the lead anymore. There are three committees in the House that will be in charge of completing the investigation, and a couple more could play important roles. The Ways & Means and Financial Services committees will probably look at the president’s taxes and the Trump Organization. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee is the primary investigatory body in the House. The Intelligence Committee under chairman Adam Schiff has announced a very aggressive and far-ranging plan. And the House Judiciary Committee, which would initiate any impeachment proceedings, is staffing up in a big way.
In light of all of this investigative energy on the House side, it may be that Senator Burr doesn’t feel as much pressure to get to the bottom of Russia’s activities. What I know for sure is that other events will have overtaken their investigation long before they’ve completed writing their report. Contrary to what the president is saying, they haven’t cleared him of anything. It’s uncertain if they ever will.