U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said unwarranted attacks on CIA director nominee Gina Haspel are disgraceful, and the special counsel’s investigation into possible election collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump is a small piece of broader congressional inquiry.
Burr chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which held a confirmation hearing for Haspel, and is investigating the collusion allegations. Without giving specifics, Burr said several congressional investigations more significant than the one about collusion headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller are under way. Burr hopes the Senate investigation will end in September.
“It’s my belief that Mueller probably could finish earlier than that,” Burr said, although he hinted Mueller might hold his results until after November’s midterm election. Burr, a Republican, is North Carolina’s senior senator.
Meantime, Burr said, “I’m in the middle of a battle over the next few weeks over the most qualified individual to head the Central Intelligence Agency in the history of the agency.”
Haspel has come under intense criticism from Democrats, and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, over potential torture of terror suspects. She was aware that post-9/11 waterboarding occurred in a few cases. She is taking heat even though the practice was deemed legal at the time.
“The political assault that is currently going on to ruin this woman’s reputation is potentially the greatest loss to national security to this country that I have seen in my lifetime,” Burr said during remarks Friday, May 11, at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation. The event explored “Foreign Policy, Trade, and Energy Challenges in the Age of Trump.”
Defending Haspel is difficult because the spy agency’s activities must be cloaked in secrecy. But Burr gave her his full support.
“Gina Haspel is the right leadership at the right time for this agency. She is the only one that has not only the trust of legislators and the administration, but she has the trust of her workforce at the CIA, and our partners all around the world,” Burr said.
He defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the collusion case headed by Mueller, a former FBI director.
“He’s in a very difficult situation,” Burr said of Sessions. Trump has publicly expressed sharp displeasure with Sessions’ decision.
Burr said he would like Mueller to wrap up the yearlong investigation. To date it has provided no evidence of Trump conspiring with Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Critics say Mueller has exceeded his original assignment — determining whether collusion occurred — and moving into unrelated investigations.
“I don’t think he’s run too far outside of that scope,” Burr said. He can’t say much publicly about the Mueller probe because he is one of only four people told the scope of the investigation from the beginning.
“You can’t believe everything you read in the paper,” Burr cautioned. “There is a concerted media effort to try to paint this administration only in one direction.”
The Senate investigation has not been as politically divisive as the House probed run by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California.
“I think the dynamics of individuals, specifically [senior House committee Democrat] Adam Schiff and his need to be on TV every 30 minutes, contributed greatly to the politicization of the investigation,” Burr said.
But Burr is not confident the Senate investigation will end with the same level of bipartisanship it enjoys now. Separate majority and minority reports are likely.
“Make no mistake. This has not been an easy process for Devin or for me relative to the level of cooperation we’ve gotten out of the FBI and the Justice Department, and I say that with a great deal of admiration for what the bureau does, and what the Justice Department has traditionally done,” Burr said.
But he expressed exasperation with the special prosecutor process. Burr said the prosecutors flout their authority, for instance, by shielding key witnesses from constitutionally authorized oversight and interviews by Congress. They also lack the direct accountability of elected officials.
“I work for the American people,” Burr said. “I can talk to anybody I want to, and a special prosecutor is not going to keep me from doing that.”