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Burr to lead Senate investigations into Russian election interference


Wake Forest University hosts a reception and banquet to honor recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award, including winner Sen. Richard Burr ('78) at Winmock on Friday, April 19, 2013.  

As the U.S. Senate begins investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, one North Carolina Republican will be at the center of the probe.

Senator Richard Burr, R-NC, who serves as the chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, will lead the investigation — which analysts have compared to the Watergate hearings in scope and consequence.

Burr, a member of Congress for more than 20 years, worked on President Donald Trump’s national security advisory council during his campaign.

Burr was initially reluctant to investigate ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, and said on Jan. 12 that it was not his role to investigate. But after having worked with committee Vice-Chairperson and Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., Burr has expressed his commitment to a non-partisan investigation.

“I've got a job in the United States Senate. And I take that job extremely seriously,” Burr said in a press conference last Wednesday. “It overrides any personal beliefs that I have or loyalties that I might have.”

Warner said at the press conference he believes Burr will be non-partisan.

“I have confidence in Richard Burr that we, together with the members of our committee, are going to get to the bottom of this,” Warner said. “And if you get nothing else from today, take that statement to the bank.”

But Gary Pearce, a North Carolina political analyst and former Democratic consultant, said Burr needs to preserve his credibility.

Burr’s impartial judgement is necessary because of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Representative Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Pearce. Nunes has been heavily criticized for compromising his integrity by visiting the White House during the House investigation.

“The House Chairman is clearly a lapdog and that investigation has no credibility whatsoever,” Pearce said. “Burr said the right things, but let’s see what he does.”

Pearce said Burr typically toes the party line in Washington, and said he hasn’t made a significant impact as a member of the House or Senate.

“He’s never been one to stand up and make a lot of noise either way,” he said. “A lot of people I know who work with him say he’s very hard-working, diligent and personable. But he’s never played the game at this level.”

The controversy surrounding Russia’s ties to the election is very comparable to Watergate, Pearce said.

“When you’re looking at a situation where another country clearly interfered in our elections, and that country is led by a dictator who squelches all dissent in his own country and wants to undermine and weaken the United States… you don’t get any higher stakes than that,” he said.

David Gray, a lecturer in the Peace, War and Defense department at UNC said Russian election tampering overshadows Watergate.

“(Richard Nixon) broke into an office and stole some files. That’s pretty sophomorish,” he said. “This is much more serious.”

Gray, who has experience working with both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, said investigators are doing the right things.

“They're going to have tremendous pressure from the White House to not dig too deep, but I think there is tremendous pressure to get a good sound report and a good sound assessment of what’s going on,” he said. “… They’re not going to let this thing go.”

Burr is facing pressure from both sides, Pearce said. Warner and the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are on one side — pushing hard for a thorough public investigation. And the White House is on the other.

“They sure look like people who’ve got something to hide,” Pearce said.

Pearce said that Burr has done the right things so far.

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“It’s easy to look good on television before you get into it, but then you have to dig in and make some tough calls,” Pearce said. “A lot of people look good in warm-ups — but how are they in crunch time?”