The leaders of the Senate Russia investigation ticked through numbers, figures, details and procedure for close to 40 minutes Wednesday afternoon, but it all boiled down to one message: After all the drama with the House and GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, the adults are now in charge.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr and Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, were laughing, smiling and generally collegial as they held a joint news conference Wednesday.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, the House investigation is in suspended animation — House Intelligence Chairman Nunes is under fire for meeting with an intelligence source at the White House and subsequently meeting with President Donald Trump the next day. Top House Democrats have called on Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation.
Burr and Warner laid out their plans — 20 witnesses they want to interview, with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreeing to testify — and outlined the seriousness of the probe.
“This one is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen in my time here,” said Burr, who has served in DC since 1995.
There’s no guarantee the bipartisan cooperation will last, however. Democrats continue to call for an independent investigation and will be watching Burr for any evidence they believe shows favoritism to the Trump White House.
The Senate panel will hold its first public hearing on Russian meddling into the US election on Thursday, forgoing higher profile witnesses like FBI Director James Comey for the moment, instead going with cybersecurity experts.
Warner sought to reassure that Senate investigators had not been waylaid by the chaos from the other side of the Captiol.
“It’s important for us at least, and I think for all of us here to remember to not lose sight about what this investigation is about: an outside, foreign adversary effectively sought to hijack our most critical democratic process, the election of a president,” Warner said. “We’re here to assure you and more importantly, the American people who are watching and listening, that we will get to the bottom of this.”
At one point, a reporter asked Burr if he was asking House investigators to share any of their sources. Burr, a typically low-key Republican from North Carolina who often shies from the cameras, quickly said, “We’re not asking the House to play any role in our investigation, we don’t plan to play any role in their investigation.”
Behind the scenes, Democrats and Republicans on the House committee have quietly bemoaned the partisan split on one of the few panels in Congress that is known for its bipartisan work ethic.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who used to serve as the top Democrat on the House committee, said that Nunes decision last week to alert Trump to the potential that he and his campaign aides had been picked up in “incidental” intelligence collection had cast a cloud over the entire House investigation.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Ruppersberger told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on “CNN Newsroom.” Ruppersberger recalled his time leading the committee: “We worked together. We fought, but we came together for the benefit of the country.”
“As a result of this issue and Devin’s mistake, he has put the whole committee in a situation where they’re all being criticized and not being respected.”
At least one House Republican, moderate Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, has said he wishes the Senate would take the lead in investigating Russia’s communications with top aides to the Trump campaign. And a handful of Senate Republicans have flatly said that Nunes’ actions warranted the creation of a special commission independent of Congress.
And then, Wednesday, one week after Nunes first upended the House investigation, there stood Warner and Burr — confident and all smiles.