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Senate Panel to Follow Russia Probe 'Wherever Intelligence Leads It'

By Michael Bowman March 29, 2017

On the eve of closely watched public hearings, the Republican chairman and top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee pledged an exhaustive and impartial probe of Russian meddling in last year's election and any possible collusion by President Donald Trump's inner circle.

"This investigation's scope will go wherever the intelligence leads it," Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said at a news conference Wednesday.

"We will get to the bottom of this," concurred Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee's ranking Democrat.

20 interviews

Burr said that an "unprecedented amount of documents" had been received and that the committee was in "constant negotiation" with the intelligence community to gain additional material. He added that there would be at least 20 interviews to conduct, including with Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who volunteered to speak with the panel.

"The committee will conduct an interview with Mr. Kushner when the committee decides that it's time for us to set a date," the chairman said.

Neither Burr nor Warner revealed any conclusions reached so far, except those related to Russia's aims.

"Vladimir Putin's goal is a weaker United States," Warner said. "Weaker economically, weaker globally. And that should be a concern to all Americans, regardless of party affiliation."

Until now, the House Intelligence Committee had taken the lead in the Russia probe. But that committee canceled open hearings this week amid a firestorm surrounding its chairman, Republican Representative Devin Nunes, who briefed Trump on classified material he had not yet shared with the committee.

With the House panel's work halted, its Senate counterpart is now in the spotlight. Burr said he voted for Trump last November but denied that party loyalty would color his work.

Even so, a growing number of Democrats say the full truth may never come to light in Republican-controlled legislative committees.

"I believe we also should be open to an independent, nonpartisan commission designed solely to investigate what happened," said Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, who also serves on the Intelligence Committee. "We cannot allow political pressure or unsubstantiated distractions to get in the way of simply following the facts."

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona echoed the call.

"I think it's reached a new level where it requires a select committee," McCain said on Fox News' America's Newsroom program. "There's too many unanswered questions out there."

The White House has complained of a smear campaign against the president's team, but it acknowledged the need for investigations to proceed.

"We want this over as much as, I think, some of you. But we recognize that there's a process that has to take place," said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

That process could resound in places far beyond Washington. Burr said Russia was "actively involved" in upcoming elections in France.

VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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