Intelligence panel to examine possible campaign links with Russia, senators say

Last Updated Jan 14, 2017 10:03 AM EST

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Intelligence Committee will investigate possible contacts between Russia and the people associated with U.S. political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In a statement late Friday, Sens. Richard Burr. R-N.C., the committee’s chairman, and Mark Warner, D-Va., the panel’s top Democrat, said the panel “will follow the intelligence where it leads.”

Burr and Warner said that as part of the investigation they will interview senior officials from the Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration. They said subpoenas would be issued “if necessary to compel testimony.”

“We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right,” the senators said.

Sen. Mark Warner, left, D-Virginia, vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, the committee’s chairman, speak in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington.

Sen. Mark Warner, left, D-Virginia, vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, the committee’s chairman, speak in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump’s team confirmed that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had direct communication with Russia’s U.S. ambassador multiple times, including on the same day the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia, expelling its diplomats, CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett reports. However, the Trump team said it was only limited to setting up a phone call between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A declassified intelligence report released last week said Putin ordered a hidden campaign to influence the election to favor Mr. Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton, revelations that have roiled Washington.

Mr. Trump and his supporters have staunchly resisted the findings and Mr. Trump has leveled a series of broadsides at U.S. intelligence agencies, even though he’ll have to rely on their expertise to help him make major national security decisions once he takes over at the White House next week. He will be sworn in Jan. 20.

At a news conference this week, Mr. Trump speculated that U.S. intelligence agencies might have leaked details about a classified briefing with him that included unsubstantiated allegations that Russia had collected compromising sexual and financial information about him.

He said any such information was not true: “It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”

The bulk of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s work will be done in secret, although the senators said they will hold open hearings when possible.

“As the committee’s investigation progresses, we will keep Senate leadership, and the broader body, apprised of our findings,” Burr and Warner said.

Democrats and some Republicans have pressed for a special, select bipartisan committee to conduct the investigation, but Republican leaders have maintained that the existing committees are capable of handling the inquiries.

According to the committee’s statement, the inquiry will include:

  • A review of the intelligence that informed the declassified report about Russia’s interference in the election.
  • “Counterintelligence concerns” related to Russia and the election, “including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.”
  • Russian cyber activity and other “active measures” against the United States during the election and more broadly.