Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “appears to have” briefed the White House as to the targets of an FBI probe, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
A redacted version of the report was released Thursday by the U.S. Justice Department.
Then-FBI director James Comey briefed congressional leaders, including Burr, about the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election on March 9, 2017. The briefing included “identification of the principal U.S. subjects of the investigation,” according to the Mueller report.
The week after that briefing, on March 16, 2017, the White House Counsel’s Office “was in contact with” Burr and “appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation,” according to the report.
Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to the White House counsel, said the White House Counsel’s Office was briefed by Burr on the existence of four or five targets, the Mueller report states.
The targets were, as identified by notes taken by Donaldson, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and “the Greek Guy,” an apparent reference to George Papadopoulos, a former member of a Trump campaign foreign policy advisory panel.
Flynn and Papadopoulous pleaded guilty, and Manafort was convicted for various crimes.
Donaldson and White House Counsel Don McGahn said they believed those were targets of Burr’s committee investigation. But the Mueller report raises doubts about that.
Referring to the committee by its acronym, the report says “SSCI does not formally investigate individuals as “targets”; the notes on their face reference the FBI, the Department of Justice, and Comey; and the notes track the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to the Gang of 8 on March 9.”
The Gang of 8 refers to the eight top congressional leaders who are briefed on intelligence matters.
“Donaldson could not rule out that Burr had told McGahn those individuals were the FBI’s targets,” the Mueller report continues.
Burr released a statement Thursday saying he’s “reviewing the report carefully,” but did not address the information about his role in briefing the White House.
A spokeswoman for Burr said in a statement that Burr “does not recall this specific conversation with Mr. McGahn in March 2017.”
“However, any conversations between the two would have been in reference to the need for White House personnel to voluntarily comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation,” said Caitlin Carroll, Burr’s spokeswoman. “If specific individuals were discussed, they would have been those known to the Committee, the White House, and the media. The Chairman’s stewardship over the Committee’s bipartisan and fact-based investigation over the last two years speaks for itself.”
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has been viewed as having the more credible of the investigations on Capitol Hill, in large part because of a lack of public sniping between Burr and Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and the committee’s ranking member. The committee has published several reports on the Russian interference in the 2018 election, including findings on the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment.
In February 2017, Burr told The Washington Post that he had conversations with the White House about Russia-related news reports and had contacted news organizations to dispute articles by The New York Times and CNN. “I felt I had something to share that didn’t breach my responsibilities to the committee in an ongoing investigation,” Burr told the Post.