SENATOR MARK WARNER (D) Feb 8, 2018
NOT INTERESTED IN A PAPER TRAIL
Trump lawyer slams Mark Warner over Russia texts
Following President Donald Trump's lead, his lawyer Jay Sekulow lit into Warner for trying to communicate with the author of a controversial dossier— even as other top Republicans defended the Democratic senator.
A lawyer for President Donald Trump criticized Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Friday, over leaked text messages that show Warner attempted to contact the author of a 2016 dossier alleging illicit ties between Trump and the Kremlin.
The comments by Jay Sekulow, a personal attorney to Trump, marked the latest stage in an ongoing conservative assault on congressional and law enforcement officials investigating possible Kremlin influence over Trump’s presidential campaign.
They followed a Thursday Fox News report revealing Warner’s texts with Washington lawyer Adam Waldman, who has ties to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent who produced the controversial Trump-Russia dossier. Waldman also represents one of Russia’s top oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Why would the majority ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee be doing this?" Sekulow said on his daily radio show Friday. He implied that the messages revealed bias on Warner’s part that should give potential committee witnesses pause.
Sekulow is one of Trump’s three primary lawyers in the Russia investigation, alongside John Dowd, who like Sekulow is a personal Trump attorney, and Ty Cobb, the top White House lawyer handling the Russia probe.
A longtime fixture on Fox News and talk radio, he has taken a combative stance toward officials investigating Trump. In December, Sekulow called for a formal investigation into alleged anti-Trump bias on the staff of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Many other conservatives, including Trump himself, have pounced on the Fox report about Warner — although they have been unclear about what exactly they believe Warner might have done wrong, and two key Senate Republicans have defended their Democratic colleague.
On Friday afternoon, the lead headline at the conservative news site Breitbart proclaimed Warner’s interactions with Waldman an example of “More Democrat-Russian Collusion.”
“Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch," Trump tweeted Thursday night. "Warner did not want a 'paper trail' on a 'private' meeting (in London) he requested with Steele of fraudulent Dossier fame. All tied into Crooked Hillary.”
Warner and the committee's top Republican, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), have for months publicly described efforts to contact Steele, whose dossier Trump calls false and defamatory. The FBI, which trusted Steele from previous investigations, incorporated his findings into an October 2016 application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as part of its investigation into the campaign's contacts with Russia.
Conservatives note that the dossier was funded by a top Democratic lawyer, and call its findings politically motivated and therefore untrustworthy.
According to the messages obtained by Fox from what the network called "a Republican source," Warner texted back and forth with Waldman in March and April 2017 attempting to broker a call with Steele. The efforts proved unsuccessful.
Steele, according to Waldman, wanted Warner and Burr to issue a bipartisan letter before he engaged the committee while Warner pushed for an initial call first. By late April, Waldman indicated Steele had soured on talking to the committee — fearful of "cost, time sucj [sic] and reputation." "I encouraged him again to engage with you for the sake of the truth and of vindication of the dossier," Waldman wrote. Warner's office decliner to comment on the exchanges.
Burr aides also told Fox News that he was aware of Warner's outreach to Waldman, the nature of whose connection to Steele is unclear. The committee revealed Warner had informed colleagues about the text messages in October. The full exchanges were turned over to the panel by Waldman in September, Fox reported.
It is not clear why it would be improper for Warner to seek the testimony of a key figure in the Trump-Russia saga with the knowledge of his GOP counterpart, and at least one other Republican leapt to Warner's defense.
"Sen. Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted Thursday. "Has had zero impact on our work."
Sekulow rebuked Burr and Rubio, describing their response to the Fox story as "really weak."
"It may have zero impact on his work,” Sekulow said of Rubio’s tweet. "I’m not so sure it has zero impact on the United States."
"Republicans are covering for him,” he added. Sekulow's comments are significant in part because the Senate Intelligence Committee has conducted its probe into Russian election meddling in relative bipartisan harmony — a sharp contrast to the House Intelligence Committee's investigation, which has been wracked by partisan acrimony.
"This is an institutional issue going on right now in the United States Senate," Sekulow said. "If I had a client going up... I’d have real serious questions about whether I wanted my client to do that."
Fox reported that the texts also show Warner discussed with Waldman having Deripaska testify before his committee. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whom Mueller indicted this fall, worked for Deripaska several years ago before the men had a falling out over a failed business deal in Ukraine. Deripaska is now suing Manafort.
There is no sign that Warner or his colleagues remain in touch with Steele or his representatives. By October, Burr and Warner indicated their attempts to contact Steele had failed.
"Unfortunately, the committee has hit a wall," Burr told reporters in an October news conference with Warner.
"We have on several occasions made attempts to contact Mr. Steele, to meet with Mr. Steele, to include personally the vice chairman and myself as two individuals making that connection," he said. "Those offers have gone unaccepted."
Burr added that he still hoped Steele would change his mind, “so that we can hear his side of it versus for us to depict in our findings what his intent or what his actions were.”