February 14, 2019
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia—who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee—broke ranks on February 12 with committee Chair Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina. Warner contested his Republican colleague’s assessment that the panel had found no evidence of collusion to date during its inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Respectfully, I disagree,” Warner said, according to CNN. “I’m not going to get into any conclusions I’ve reached because my basis of this has been that I’m not going to reach any conclusion until we finish the investigation. And we still have a number of the key witnesses to come back.”
His statement came just hours before President Donald Trump’s former “fixer” and personal lawyer Michael Cohen told the committee that he would defer his testimony “due to post-surgery medical needs.”
Cohen had been subpoenaed by the committee on January 24 as a key source of information on the campaign’s contacts with Russia—one of the few individuals with a behind-the-doors perspective on Trump’s campaign machinations—but he has backed out three times. At least one of those times, Cohen claimed he was reluctant to talk because of “ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. [Rudolph] Giuliani.”
On Tuesday night, CNN reported, Burr told reported on Capitol Hill, “I can assure you that any goodwill that might have existed in the committee with Michael Cohen is now gone.”
Burr reiterated that his committee had “no factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,” but that he wanted to interview Cohen before the former lawyer for President Donald Trump reports to federal prison next month.
However, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said the surgery excuse was accurate. “Mr. Cohen was expected to and continues to suffer from severe post shoulder surgery pain, as confirmed by a letter from his surgeon, which was sent to Senator Burr and Senator [Mark] Warner,” Davis said. “The medication Mr. Cohen is currently taking made it impossible for him to testify this week.”
The split in public comments between Burr and Warner marked a rare instance of a partisan divide between the two committee leaders.
“Several of the individual members have made statements, but I certainly am not prepared to make a statement as to what was found or not found,” he said.
Warner told CNN that lawmakers are still hoping to speak with a few witnesses, including Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen. The longtime Trump associate was scheduled to testify Tuesday, but postponed his appearance, citing medical reasons after a recent shoulder surgery.
Trump has repeatedly maintained that his campaign did not collude with Russia and he has welcomed Burr’s comments as proof of that fact.
Research contact: @jeremyherb