By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate’s main investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is equipped with a much smaller staff than previous high-profile intelligence and scandal probes in Congress, which could potentially affect its progress, according to sources and a Reuters review of public records.
With only seven staff members initially assigned to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s three-month-old investigation, progress has been sluggish and minimal, said two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, who requested anonymity.
A committee aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said two more staff members were being added and a few others were involved less formally.
“We need to pick up the pace,” Senator Martin Heinrich, a committee Democrat, told Reuters on Monday. “It is incumbent on us to have the resources to do this right and expeditiously, and I think we need additional staff.”
While some directly involved in the investigation disputed characterizations of the probe as off track, the appearance of a weak Senate investigation could renew calls by some Democrats and other Trump critics for a commission independent of the Republican-led Congress to investigate the allegations.
The intelligence committees of the Senate and House of Representatives have taken the lead in Congress in examining whether Russia tried to influence the election in Republican Trump’s favor, mostly by hacking Democratic operatives’ emails and releasing embarrassing information, or possibly by colluding with Trump associates. Russia has denied such meddling.
With the House intelligence panel’s investigation for weeks stymied by partisan squabbles, the Senate committee’s parallel probe had appeared to be the more serious of the two, with Republican Chairman Richard Burr and top Democrat Mark Warner promising a thorough and bipartisan effort.
Burr, a member of Congress since 1995, last month called the Russia probe one of the biggest investigations undertaken in Congress during his tenure.
Previous investigations of national security matters have been much larger in terms of staffing than the one Burr is overseeing, according to a review of official reports produced by those inquiries, which traditionally name every staff member involved. (Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2oYtUs8)
A House committee formed to investigate the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans had 46 staffers and eight interns.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s years-long study of the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques during President George W. Bush’s administration had 20 staff members, according to the panel’s official report.
A special commission separate from Congress that reviewed the intelligence that wrongly concluded former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq involved 88 staffers.
A special Senate committee’s…