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By Allan Smith
Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, apparently provided the White House with information on the Russia investigation after a private briefing with then-FBI Director James Comey, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report.
Within a week of Comey briefing the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders about the FBI’s Russia probe in March 2017, Mueller wrote that then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn’s office was in contact with the North Carolina Republican “and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.”
As Mueller notes, it’s unclear if Trump was aware of the briefing at the time. But Annie Donaldson, who served as McGahn’s chief of staff, wrote then that “POTUS in panic/chaos … Need binders to put in front of POTUS. (1) All things related to Russia.”
According to Donaldson’s notes, which Mueller referenced, McGahn’s office was briefed by Burr “on the existence of ‘4-5 targets.'” It was not clear if Donaldson was present for that briefing, or was simply taking notes on something she had heard.
Those targets — listed in Donaldson’s notes — were former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Mueller said Donaldson’s notes “track [with] the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to the Gang of 8 on March 9.” In Comey’s briefing, Mueller wrote that the then-FBI director included “an identification of the principal U.S. subjects of the investigation.”
“Chairman Burr does not recall this specific conversation with Mr. McGahn in March of 2017; however, any conversations between the two would have been in reference to the need for White House personnel to voluntarily comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation,” Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman for Burr, told NBC News in a statement. “If specific individuals were discussed, they would have been those known to the Committee, the White House, and the media. The Chairman’s stewardship over the Committee’s bipartisan and fact-based investigation over the last two years speaks for itself.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and a member of the panel, said in a statement: “Given evidence from the Mueller report, the committee must take steps to ensure its investigations do not leak to the executive branch.”