Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said Tuesday he did not inform the White House about details of the FBI counterintelligence investigation into members of Trump’s team following a March 2017 briefing on the investigation from then-FBI Director James Comey.
Burr, the North Carolina Republican who leads the Senate’s ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling, has faced questions about what he told the White House counsel’s office after he was referenced in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on obstruction of justice. Mueller wrote that the White House counsel’s office was in touch with Burr in March 2017 “about the Russia investigations and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.”
Asked if he took information he learned from Comey proactively to the White House, Burr said: “No.”
The report says Burr was referenced in notes from Annie Donaldson, deputy counsel to former White House counsel Don McGahn. Donaldson wrote Burr briefed the counsel’s office on the “existence of 4-5 targets” following a briefing that Comey gave to the Gang of Eight, the group of intelligence and congressional leaders from both parties who receive sensitive information from the executive branch.
“The notes on their face reference the FBI, the Department of Justice and Comey; and the notes track the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to the Gang of 8 on March 9,” the report says, listing the targets referenced as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and one name that’s redacted due to an ongoing investigation.
But Burr told CNN on Tuesday that he was talking to McGahn about his committee’s investigation, and referenced information about investigations into individuals that were mostly public already.
“I had a conversation with Don McGahn about trying to make White House personnel available for interview that might have had contact with Russians,” Burr said. “It’s very possible that I answered a question about our investigation when I listed those four individuals because they were public entities then, with one exception — I thought Papadopoulos was; he was not public at that time. (Virginia Democratic Sen.) Mark Warner had been out talking about Mike Flynn in February, The New York Times wrote an article with all three names in February, and Carter Page self-named himself as receiving a letter from us on March 6 … and my conversation happened after that.”
Burr added that Mueller’s report did not “say one way or the other” whether he was referencing the Senate investigation or the FBI’s investigation. He said that he didn’t have access to Donaldson’s notes referenced in the report.
Warner, the committee’s top Democrat who has worked closely with Burr on the two-year Russia investigation, declined to comment on Burr’s reference in the report.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent on the committee who caucuses with the Democrats, said Burr’s conversation with McGahn wasn’t appropriate, but King added that Burr’s handling of the Russia investigation overshadows any concerns he might have about the incident.
“I don’t think that was appropriate, but I suspect he now thinks that, too,” King said. “It was at the very beginning, had it been an ongoing pattern, I think it would be a greater concern. But I think he’s demonstrated through the course of the investigation that he’s sticking with it in a non-partisan way and a serious way. … I wish that hadn’t happened, but I don’t think it taints his work on the investigation.”