The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee is distancing himself from the White House — literally.
Asked whether he planned to join President Trump and other Republicans for a health care luncheon at the White House on Wednesday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told Erica Werner of the Associated Press that he wouldn’t do so while the Trump’s campaign Russia ties are under investigation, including in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen Burr is ordering lunch in the Senate carry out.
Not going to WH while investigation under way he says.
— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) July 19, 2017
Burr told reporters he’ll “make it a habit while this investigation is going on that I don’t go down [to the White House],” according to The Hill.
This represents a major and significant shift for Burr. In February, Burr and House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) were enlisted by the White House to help tamp down media reports about the Trump’s campaign contacts with Russia, which were already under investigation at the time.
Burr and Nunes “made calls to news organizations… in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives,” the Washington Post reported. In an interview with the Post, Burr acknowledged communicating with news organizations “to dispute articles by the New York Times and CNN that alleged ‘repeated’ or ‘constant’ contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives.”
A secret trip Nunes later made to the White House for a briefing on Russia-related intelligence he used in an evidence-free attempt to gin up a scandal surrounding the Obama administration’s surveillance practices ultimately forced him to temporarily step aside from his committee’s Russia investigation.
Burr and Nunes’ toadying looks even worse in light of Donald Trump Jr.’s release of incriminating campaign emails last week. The emails, which set up a June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, indicate the Trump campaign was at the very least willing to collude with Russia and aware of the Putin regime’s interest in meddling in the election on behalf of Trump.
As recently as late April, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Trump’s Russia ties was in disarray. But two weeks later, Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey — a decision Trump later admitted was motivated by his frustration about the FBI’s ongoing Russia probe — and business has picked up since then.
Last month, Burr’s committee heard Comey’s first and so far only congressional testimony since his termination. The former FBI director told the Senate Intelligence Committee about Trump’s request for a pledge of personal loyalty, his attempts to get Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s false statements about his Russia contacts, and his repeated requests that Comey tell the public Trump wasn’t personally under investigation.
As a result, it appears Burr — who has voted almost entirely in lockstep with Trump’s positions — won’t be seen at the White House, will be less likely to answer the phone the next time an administration official calls asking him to do something, at least as long as his committee’s investigation continues.