Senator Richard Burr
U.S. Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the INDY
in an exclusive (albeit brief) interview that his panel’s probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia will follow up on "every intelligent statement," but he won't allow the probe to turn into a witch hunt.
Burr spoke outside the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel after an appearance Friday night in Raleigh along with John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Burr did not address the investigation during his speech—other than to say, “Every day of the week was Monday”—but answered questions as he was leaving.
"We're going to continue to go forward," Burr said. "We are in the interview stage right now, so it's pretty extensive. I think we've finished about thirty interviews so far."
Burr said the ongoing investigation has not yet given him "a good feel for what the full extent of it is." The probe, along with parallel investigations by a U.S. House committee and the FBI, is looking at matters including whether members of President Trump's campaign communicated with Russian operatives involved in sabotaging the presidential bid of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Following the firing Tuesday of FBI director James Comey, Burr’s committee subpoenaed documents from former national security adviser Michael Flynn Wednesday, then invited Comey to meet with the committee in a closed session next week—an invitation Comey reportedly declined. Since Comey’s controversial termination, leaks have proliferated across Washington, D.C., about several different aspects of the FBI investigation and Trump’s decision-making process. On Friday, Burr pledged to keep a cool head in the face of ramped-up reporting. That’s important, he said, in part to protect younger campaign workers who may be interviewed in the course of the committee's work.
"We're going to follow every intelligent statement," Burr said. "I'm not going to let this get into a witch hunt just because it was mentioned in an article … somebody's name, because the one thing I’ve learned over twenty-three years of doing investigations is that when someone becomes a subject, it causes tremendous legal cost. In a lot of cases, when you're dealing with a potential campaign, you've got a lot of young kids that I've got to talk to, but I need to do it in a way that doesn't require them to spend legal cost."
Burr said he hoped to continue to get people to talk of their own accord, apparently in lieu of issuing subpoenas. "The more people you can talk to in a voluntary way,” he said, “the more likely you are to get a fuller picture.”
At a lunch session, Senator Thom Tillis kicked off a day and evening of discussion on the announced topics of "Foreign Relations and Trade Policy in the Era of Trump." The event was sponsored by the Jesse Helms Center and the John William Pope Foundation. During his speech, Tillis steered clear of the topic of Trump, other than to thank God that Burr is "the head of the spear," the man in charge of the Senate committee's investigation.
"He's working to find the truth," Tillis said. "He's working to get to the facts."
Protesters gathered outside the Sheraton to urge both senators to push for an independent counsel to investigate Trump's ties to Russia and his dismissal Tuesday of Comey. Typically a diehard if low-key GOP loyalist, Burr showed a flash of independence by saying after Comey's ouster that he was "troubled by the timing" of the move. He has not, however, endorsed the appointment of an special prosecutor or an independent commission.