ELLIOT: Burr and Warners lonely show of bipartisanship

Aaron P. Bernstein—Reuters
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)

An extraordinary contrast was on display last week in Washington. In the city that is synonymous with dysfunction and partisan rancor, two sitting senators — one a Democrat, one a Republican — literally stood shoulder to shoulder and told the world they were of one accord on a very controversial issue. The occasion for this rare display of substantive bipartisanship was a press conference called by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner about the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation into Russian election meddling.And the contrast? You could be forgiven if you are thinking about the House intelligence committee. On the House side, the lead Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, has called on Devin Nunes, the chairman, to recuse himself from the House investigation after Nunes shared information from an executive branch source with Speaker Paul Ryan before consulting Schiff. After Schiff had a chance to review the same documents, which Nunes says show that the Obama administration may have been aware of unlawful domestic spying, Schiff declined to discuss their contents but maintained his criticism of Nunes. But that’s not the contrast I mean. Burr and Warner, who are chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, made every effort to eschew partisanship in the March 29 press conference. Despite that fact — or perhaps because of it — the news media was right there to put it back into the conversation.It came in the form of a question from an NPR reporter. She questioned Burr’s ability to lead an impartial investigation since he was a Trump supporter. Burr did support Trump in the election, although he was neither as early nor as enthusiastic as many others. But as some commentators have pointed out, Warner did not get a similar question, even though he was a quick and enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s opponent. Indeed, Warner was rumored to be on the short list for the Democratic ticket before Hillary Clinton chose his fellow Virginian Tim Kaine for the VP slot.It would be one thing if Burr, as chairman, had been holding a solo press conference about the committee’s Republican staffers working on an investigation of Trump. But Burr and Warner spent the first 20 minutes of the event reinforcing each other — past the point of redundancy — to make it clear that they were in complete agreement and that the investigation would be careful and nonpartisan.Burr gave his assurance that the investigation would be fair (although he did not say it “hand over heart,” as the reporter condescendingly requested). Then Warner came to his aid, putting his hand on Burr’s shoulder and saying “I have confidence in Richard Burr, that we — together with the members of our committee — are gonna get to the bottom of this. If you get nothing else from today, take that statement to the bank.”It is sad, but not surprising, that Washington politicians are better equipped to tear off their partisan labels and come together to find the truth than are Washington journalists.To be fair, most journalists covering the press conference were quick to contrast the Burr-Warner display of teamwork with the discord evident in their counterparts in the House of Representatives. But considering the acrimony emanating from the House side of the Capitol, that’s a low bar to clear.As for Burr, he made it clear that he would not be bullied by the press to take the investigation in partisan directions.”This investigation’s scope will go wherever the intelligence leads it,” Burr said. “So it is absolutely crucial that every day we spend (our time) trying to separate fact from fiction and define some intel thread that sends us to the factual side of all the names, and all of the places, that you in this room have written about. Just the fact that you say it doesn’t mean it’s fact.”The success of any investigation is tied to its thoroughness, fairness, swiftness, and depth of analysis, not any immutable facts it uncovers — and certainly not whether the results can be spun by Democrats and the news media as damaging to Trump. Buoyed by Warner, Burr is trying to do the right thing for the country in an extremely perilous situation. Last week’s press conference proves how difficult that will be.
Drew Elliot is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.