Sen. Mark Warner: This Russia-collusion investigation could go on for months

Mark Warner is the top Democrat on the Senate’s Russia-collusion investigation. Today, Politico published an hour-long interview with Sen. Warner in which he claims recently uncovered documents will make it necessary for the Senate investigation, already a year old, to grind on for several more months.

Warner, the intel committee’s top Democrat, says “end-of-the-year document dumps” produced “very significant” revelations that “opened a lot of new questions” that Senate investigators are now looking into, meaning the inquiry into Trump and the Russia hacking—already nearly a year old—will not be finished for months longer. “We’ve had new information that raises more questions,” Warner says in the interview, an extensive briefing on the state of the Senate’s Trump-Russia probe for The Global Politico, our weekly podcast on world affairs.

So the message here is that maybe this would have been close to wrapping up, but suddenly there are whole new avenues to explore. It’s not that Democrats want to drag this out into the 2018 election cycle, they simply have no choice. But at least we’ve learned a lot from the first year of this investigation, right?

While he acknowledges that the Senate probe may have months more to run and that no conclusions have been reached on the key question of Trump and collusion, Warner tells me that a bipartisan majority on the panel is now in agreement on the basic facts of the case aside from that. “Virtually every member of our committee, Democrat or Republican, would agree,” he says, that Russia sought to intervene in 2016 on Trump’s behalf with “traditional spycraft” of stealing information and then releasing it, along with not-so-traditional methods of using social media platforms, compromising state voting systems and offering “dirt” on Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.

Is any of this information actually new or have we known all of this for more than a year? Let me quote a report the Director of National Intelligence released last January:

We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump…

Moscow’s use of disclosures during the US election was unprecedented, but its influence campaign otherwise followed a longstanding Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

There has been some new information coming to light in the past year (including that the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid for the Russia dossier), but Sen. Warner’s description of what everyone now agrees on sounds a lot like what the intelligence community was already saying a full year ago. What the investigation has not turned up in that year is any proof of the collusion Democrats and the media have been talking about on television non-stop. Finally, near the end of this story you get a kind of accidental admission of what this is really about: [emphasis added]

Over on the House side, meanwhile, Republican leaders may allow a vote as soon as Monday on whether to publicly release the controversial Nunes memo – despite fervent objections from Trump’s own Justice Department that doing so could harm national security.

None of which has all that much to do with the basic, jaw-dropping question that started the investigation off in the first place: just how and why Russia succeeded in intervening in an American presidential election on behalf of one of the candidates. With the 2018 midterm elections set to begin little more than a month from now, Warner says that’s still the big story, even if it’s in danger of being lost in a drumbeat of partisan name-calling.

Democrats want to keep us focused on the prize, which is a possible (but never proven) connection the Trump campaign to bad behavior by the Russians in 2016. That’s the investigation they need several more months to sort out as the 2018 election season gets going in earnest. It’s not hard to see the alternative motivation Democrats might have for them dragging this out. Democrats, especially those in the Senate, are facing a tough electoral map this year, but if they can keep everyone focused on the promise of an unproven scandal, maybe they can minimize their losses. An investigation that drags on into summer is exactly what they need.