The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A Senate Republican’s words seemed mild. They were really a direct rebuke.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), left, and Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

SEN. RICHARD BURR’S seemingly mild words were, in fact, unmistakably pointed. Speaking Wednesday about Russia’s activities and intentions in the 2016 presidential election, the North Carolina Republican assured Americans that his staff “spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work” of the intelligence community and found “no reason” to dispute intelligence officials’ conclusions.

Under normal circumstances, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee vouching for the professionalism of the nation’s national security staff would hardly be notable. In this case, Mr. Burr’s statement represented a direct rebuke of the hyper-partisan House Intelligence Committee and of the White House, which has sought to score political points by attacking the professionals.

The House Intelligence Committee last month ended its slanted and abbreviated inquiry into Russian election interference, with the panel’s Republicans accusing the intelligence community of “significant intelligence tradecraft failings” in concluding that the Kremlin intervened to boost Donald Trump’s campaign. President Trump used the report to further his narrative that the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is a witch hunt.

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Now Mr. Burr and the committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), are formally disputing the House committee’s accusation that the intelligence community’s methods were faulty. In a joint statement with Mr. Burr, Mr. Warner said, “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President [Vladimir] Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. In order to protect our democracy from future threats, we must understand what happened in 2016.”

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Mr. Burr and Mr. Warner deserve credit for continuing to cooperate in the face of extreme partisan pressure. The president himself has leaned on the chairman and other Senate GOP leaders to end the legislative inquiry. The panel’s findings reinforce a conclusion that, no matter how familiar by now, should remain stunning and unacceptable to all Americans: A hostile foreign power intervened on behalf of a particular presidential candidate, who is now in the White House, and that power likely intends to meddle again. Also stunning is that, in the face of this continuing national security threat, partisanship has led many Republicans to deny the obvious and smear patriotic intelligence officials.

But they cannot make the awkward questions go away. Why did the Russians favor Mr. Trump? Was it his hostility toward the NATO alliance that has checked Russian aggression for decades? Was it his longtime attraction to Mr. Putin? Was it because the Russians knew that Ms. Clinton would have been a more formidable and canny adversary? Was it because Mr. Trump would weaken the United States by inflaming divisions among Americans?

Their investment seems to be paying off in at least one way: Mr. Trump so far has been unwilling to mount the kind of strong response that would be necessary to deter the Russians from trying to interfere in U.S. elections again.

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David Ignatius: We know an awful lot about Manafort and Russia. Trump can’t make it disappear.

The Post’s View: America is still unprepared for a Russian attack on our elections