Senate Republicans can finally see the finish line on the Russia investigations.
With Donald Trump Jr. agreeing to an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee after a brief but explosive fight over Chairman Richard Burr’s subpoena, Republicans see the committee’s two-year bipartisan investigation into Russian interference winding down.
“We’re near the end,” Burr (R-N.C.) said in a brief interview. “The first iteration of the report is out for declassification right now. I can’t tell you how long that takes. I’m hopeful we’ll push that out in a couple weeks.”
Those words are sure to come as a relief to Senate Republicans.
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“It should be the end of it. It better be the end of it,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). A conclusion after the Trump Jr. subpoena battle is “appropriate, it’s clean. It maybe even restores some confidence in the process.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe has at times created an awkward dynamic between the GOP and the White House, and Republicans are eager to see it come to a close. That would leave House Democrats as the only remaining investigators — which would help Republicans paint the continued scrutiny as a partisan exercise meant to harm Trump.
“I would expect that a lot of the Democrats wish that [Trump Jr.] hadn’t come because they’d rather keep the narrative alive. It’s going to end this narrative. Done,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is up for re-election in 2020 and faces a conservative primary challenger. Tillis backed Burr’s work as chairman but said he disagreed with the subpoena.
“We need to get over it,” Tillis said. “So this produces closure on this side and we can just watch the circus on the other side of the Hill.”
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have emphasized that their investigation into alleged Russian interference is about oversight and vastly different than special counsel Robert Mueller’s deep dive into potential criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin along with obstruction of justice by the president.
The Senate investigation, led by Burr and Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), has remained largely bipartisan, a stark contrast to the one from the House Intelligence panel previously led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) or House Democrats’ new wave of probes.
Yet over the past week the tension between Burr and many of his GOP colleagues became the main story. Shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “case closed” speech on the Senate floor, the Trump Jr. subpoena became public and created a massive GOP backlash toward Burr. But the chairman stood firm, grinning while he roamed the Senate and refusing to comment on the criticism.
Now that the GOP infighting has passed and Trump Jr. has agreed to come back for a final round of closed-door questioning, senators say the investigation is likely almost over with findings set to be unveiled in a bipartisan manner.
“The Senate Intel Committee worked very hard to keep this as non-partisan as possible” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a former Intelligence Committee member. “That’s a positive thing if they can get all the way to the end.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) added he doesn’t think “there’s any doubt you’re at the end.” Earlier this week, when it was unclear whether Trump Jr. would comply with the subpoena, some were preparing for the possibility that the Senate would have to vote on enforcing compliance — putting Republicans in the tough position of either siding with Trump or their Senate colleague. Grassley said the Senate is “better off” not having to do that.
Yet not everyone is satisfied. Sen. Rand Paul is frustrated that Burr hasn’t already closed shop.
“I don’t think it’s wise of the committee nor Republicans to keep beating a dead horse,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Democrats said Wednesday that Trump Jr.’s appearance before the panel was a positive development, but they were quick to dismiss Republican calls to move on.
“The Republicans declared it was over before it even started, so I don’t even pay any attention to that. They’re just trying to spin it in the same way that [Attorney General William Barr] tried to spin the Mueller report,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who added that there are still outstanding law enforcement investigations that are nonpartisan.
Although the Senate is disengaging, the House’s battle with Trump over the Mueller report and its explosive evidence of potential obstruction of justice is only beginning.
House Democrats have launched a series of investigations into the administration and have called on the Justice Department to provide the unredacted version of the report. They’re demanding that Mueller testify and the House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn, a key witness in the Mueller probe.
Trump, meanwhile, is rejecting all Democratic oversight requests. The White House sent a letter Wednesday to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) accusing him of harassing the president in response to the committee’s wide-ranging probe on potential corruption and obstruction of justice.
The move is unlikely to halt Nadler’s inquiries.
“They say the Justice Department can’t hold him accountable since a sitting president cannot be indicted and now they’re saying that Congress cannot hold a president accountable,” Nadler said in response. “The American people ought to be astonished by a claim by the White House that the president cannot be held accountable, that he’s above the law, that he is in fact a dictator.”
Republicans are more than happy to change the subject, not wanting to get tied in any way to the probes into Trump. That’s especially true for those who are up for reelection and eager to cultivate Trump’s supporters.
If the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan investigation is indeed ending, Republicans insist that remaining congressional investigations into Trump — all in the House — will be viewed as pure politics.
“Now the Mueller report is concluded, there’s not much else for us to do other than I think sort of wrap it up,” said John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I understand the political temptation for our Democratic friends is they’re never going to want this to end. But I don’t think there’s much justification for continuing on much longer.”