Hand it to Sen. Mark Warner. Of the many Russia-collusion theorists, how many get to claim “bipartisan” credentials?
That’s one question that accompanied Thursday’s supposedly big news that the Senate Intelligence Committee had subpoenaed former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to testify in February. If anything comes from this appearance—it would be surprising. Senate Intel is the committee Mr. Warner, as ranking Democrat, has turned into the black hole of the Russia investigation, with Republican signoff.
Congressional committees have been doggedly unraveling the “Russia collusion” story from the first days of the Trump administration. Most of these investigations resulted in piles of vital facts that fundamentally altered the collusion narrative. Thanks to House committees, we know the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted surveillance of the Trump team based on opposition research from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley blew the lid off the FBI’s feckless relationship with dossier author Christopher Steele. The Senate Homeland Security Committee, under Ron Johnson, helped unearth the biased Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts. And the House Intelligence Committee by April 2018 had already issued a report finding no evidence of collusion.
Notably absent have been the self-proclaimed adults in the room on Senate Intel. From them—nada. Chairman Richard Burr last spoke up during the fall, when he took time to rebuke President Trump for proclaiming there was no evidence he or his campaign colluded with Russia. Mr. Burr admitted his committee has no “hard evidence” of collusion, but added that “we have a lot of investigation left.”
Mr. Burr appears to have suffered a political mugging. Before Mr. Trump even took office, the left’s media friends depicted him as a lackey of the new president, incapable of running a fair probe, potentially even having been co-opted to run interference for the White House. Democrats (and a few Republicans) demanded that the investigation be taken out of Mr. Burr’s hands in favor of a special panel or commission.
Mr. Burr kept his probe, though at the price of a promise to work cooperatively with committee Democrats. That means Mr. Warner effectively runs the show, using the committee’s secrecy to nurture every allegation against Mr. Trump even as he ensures that it delays producing any conclusions. “Bipartisan” in the Warner dictionary means that committee Democrats make unfounded claims and committee Republicans must sit silent, lest they be accused of uncongeniality. That’s also the media’s definition of bipartisanship, which it daily encourages with a never-ending gush of stories about the committee’s integrity and seriousness.
All this leaves Mr. Warner free to act as the Senate’s resident conspiracy theorist, but with the veneer of respectability—the grown-up version of Rep. Adam Schiff. In recent weeks Mr. Warner has painted the lurid possibility of Trump-Russia collusion. He’s said that Mr. Trump “parroted” President Vladimir Putin’s policies in 2016; that the president “never spoke ill” of Russia; that the Republican Party “softened” its Russia platform; that Mr. Trump hid his Helsinki conversations with Mr. Putin last July.
Where are all the Senate Intelligence Republicans to remind Mr. Warner and his viewers that the committee has failed to produce any “hard evidence” for such claims? They are sitting quietly, the good members who follow the rules and don’t talk about the committee’s work—even as Mr. Warner does.
The situation has also left Mr. Warner free to get away with some unbecoming actions. In March 2017, he began secretly texting with a lobbyist who offered to put him in touch with Mr. Steele. In his texts, Mr. Warner insisted that he alone on the committee should talk to Mr. Steele first, about the “scope” of any possible testimony. He didn’t disclose any of this to his committee colleagues until months later. Who was running interference, and on whose behalf? Not only did Intel Republicans let this pass, a few even defended Mr. Warner.
Republican defenders of the committee say its primary mission was always to investigate the intelligence community’s handling of Russia’s 2016 interference—and that it has already issued two reports—one on the community’s assessments, the other on election security.
At some point, however, Republicans might note that Mr. Warner has unilaterally redefined the work of this “bipartisan” group. Recently he told CNN that the “defining question” of the Senate Intel investigation is whether there was “collusion.” The longer he can keep that question open at a leading Senate committee, the longer the innuendo hovers over the White House.
Yes, we all want adult behavior. Someone on the Senate Intelligence Committee ought to step up and offer some supervision of Mr. Warner.
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