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Senate Intel putting Russia probe on fast track

Sens. Mark Warner and Richard Burr

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (right) and committee Vice Chairman Sen, Mark Warner confer Wednesday on Capitol Hill as the panel conducts a hearing on Russian intervention in European elections. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Chairman Burr hopes to wrap up the investigation by the end of this year and is pushing an ‘aggressive’ interview schedule.

By Darren Samuelsohn , Austin Wright and Kyle Cheney

06/28/2017 02:02 PM EDT

Updated 06/28/2017 03:48 PM EDT

2017-06-28T03:48-0400

The Senate panel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election aims to finish its work by the end of this year and plans to double the number of witness interviews to nearly 90 before lawmakers break for the August recess, the Republican leader of the investigation said Wednesday.

“I’d like to finish by the end of this year,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters when asked about his timeline for completing a final report, saying that timeline was "aspirational." “It can be done.”

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Burr said the intelligence committee’s aides have already spoken to “well over 40” people — and a source close to the investigation characterized that group primarily as intelligence community analysts and former government officials like Jeh Johnson, who served as President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security secretary.

“We’ve got a very aggressive schedule in July,” Burr explained. “We may double the number of interviews by the time we leave for the August recess based upon our schedule.”

The Senate panel is one of at least five committees digging into Russia’s role in influencing the election and any ties between the Cold War adversary and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Much of Burr’s committee's work has taken place behind closed doors, though it held its seventh public hearing on Wednesday on how Moscow has used cyber espionage and viral fake news stories to influence elections in Europe. Both the Senate panel and its House counterpart have issued multiple subpoenas, including to Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

And Burr told POLITICO on Wednesday his panel had reached an agreement to get memos James Comey wrote on his interactions with Trump, including a meeting in which the president allegedly urged the former FBI director to drop an investigation into Flynn.

On Tuesday, an attorney for GOP operative Roger Stone said the longtime Trump associate was preparing to testify July 24 in a closed session before the House Intelligence Committee, where he planned to explain his communications with Moscow-linked hackers and WikiLeaks, which published stolen emails last year from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

While the Senate Intelligence Committee has also sought documents from Stone, Burr said his panel wasn’t sure an interview with him was necessary.

“To bring anybody in for an interview or for a hearing, you have to know what it is you want to ask them. We’re not there with Roger Stone. We still have a very difficult time understanding whether he has anything to contribute to our investigation,” Burr said.

Several other former

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Grassley, Graham want the FBI’s Russia surveillance warrants

Grassley, Graham want the FBI’s Russia surveillance warrants

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (left) and panel member Lindsey Graham are urging FBI officials to disclose documents. | AP Photo

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Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?

Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?

Montgomery, Alabama—Ask a taxi to take you from the airport here to the downtown headquarters of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and your driver will start telling tales of the group’s founder, local legend Morris Dees. “He’s a hell of a man around here,” mine informs me on a Friday morning in late April. “He’s the one who got the Klan straightened out. He fought the cause.” The driver adds, as an aside, “He made plenty of money doing it.”

These are the twin legacies of Montgomery’s most famous nonprofit: Since 1971, the SPLC has fought racial discrimination in the South and established itself as the nation’s most prominent hate-group watchdog, most notably winning legal fights that put some of the last nails in the coffin of the Ku Klux Klan. It has also built itself into a civil rights behemoth with a glossy headquarters and a nine-figure endowment, inviting charges that it oversells the threats posed by Klansmen and neo-Nazis to keep donations flowing in from wealthy liberals.

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Now the election of Donald Trump has vaulted the SPLC back into the center of the national conversation, giving the group the kind of potent foil it hasn’t had since the Klan. Trump swept into the Oval Office by disparaging Mexican immigrants, fanning Islamophobia and activating a resurgent strain of racism rebranded as “alt-right.” Suddenly the SPLC, whose biggest fights seemed to be behind it, is all over the news—warning of an increase in hate crimes, publishing sleek reports about anti-Muslim extremists and taking the leaders of the alt-right to court. The group is in the process of adding 50 staffers, expanding legal services for immigrants facing deportation across the South and bringing a legal hammer down on alt-right trolls. Since the election, the SPLC says it has more than doubled its following on Twitter and jumped from 650,000 Facebook followers to more than a million.

The rise of Trump is a moment made for Dees, the SPLC’s 80-year-old founder, who is more than a little Trumpian himself. Smooth, publicity-savvy and detail-averse, Dees is a marketing genius whose greatest success may be selling his own persona as a crusader—a skill on display across the street from the SPLC’s office, where a black granite memorial to the casualties of the civil rights movement proclaims it was built by the Morris Dees Legacy Fund. Inside the memorial’s gift shop, visitors will find on the wall a framed photo of Dees staring off into the distance, looking equal parts pensive and saintly. On a shelf next to SPLC-branded water bottles and mugs, the same image of Dees reappears in another frame; it’s also printed on nearby postcards, which are available for purchase.

Touches such as these have led some journalists to nickname Dees, with irony , “the Mother Teresa of Montgomery.” And as Dees navigates the era of Trump, there are new questions arising around a charge that has dogged the group for years: that the SPLC is overplaying its hand,

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Haley: Trump saved 'many innocent' lives with Syria statement

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley testifies before the House Appropriations Committee about the "red line" in Syria during a budget hearing June 27, 2017. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

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Poll: Fewer than 4-in-10 voters back GOP health bill

Poll: Fewer than 4-in-10 voters back GOP health bill

More voters think the bill will make the nation’s health care system worse (41 percent) than believe will make it better (29 percent). | Getty

Just 38 percent of voters approve of the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted before Senate leaders pulled the latest version of their bill in an effort to win over more GOP votes.

That's fewer than the 45 percent who disapprove of the Republican health care bill. Another 17 percent say they don’t know or have no opinion of the bill.

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Six in 10 Republican voters approve of the bill, but a quarter of members of President Donald Trump's party disapprove. The numbers among Democrats are a mirror image: Twenty-five percent approve, and 64 percent disapprove. But independents tilt against the measure: Only 30 percent approve, and 43 percent disapprove.

The intensity gap is on the side of the bill’s opponents: Thirty-one percent of voters overall “strongly” disapprove of the bill, roughly double the 16 percent who “strongly” approve.

The results are similar to voters’ views of the health care bill that recently passed the House — though the wording of the poll question was changed in this new survey to reflect the Senate’s consideration of its own measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the chamber would not take up the bill this week as previously planned. The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll was conducted June 22-24 — prior to both the Kentucky senator’s Tuesday announcement and the release on Monday of the Congressional Budget Office’s report on the bill’s effects.

Other measures in the poll also point to the bill’s challenges. More voters think the bill will make the nation’s health care system worse (41 percent) than believe will make it better (29 percent). More think it will increase costs for their families (42 percent) than think it will decrease those costs (21 percent). Thirty-eight percent think the bill will hurt the quality of health care, and only 26 percent think quality would be improved.

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Though the poll was conducted before the CBO released its projection that 22 million fewer Americans would have health insurance if the Senate bill became law, the report confirms voters’ beliefs: Forty-six percent say they expect the bill would decrease the number of Americans with health insurance, while only 21 percent believe more people would be insured.

As Senate Republicans attempt to recalibrate the bill to rein in moderate and conservative defectors, voters are divided on the scope of the effort. Thirty-eight percent say the legislation goes too far in making changes to the health care system, and another 23 percent say it doesn’t go far enough.

It's a split that exists within the GOP, as well.

"The tension between moderate Republicans and hard-liners that is playing out

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