Our man in Winston-Salem | The American Conservative


WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 3: Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee speaks during a hearing regarding the appointment of Miguel A. Cardona of Connecticut as Secretary of Education at the Capitol Hill on February 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. Cardona previously served as the Connecticut Secretary of Education. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker – Pool / Getty Images)

“You watch, he’ll win.” That was US Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina on election night in 2016. Sitting in his home on Pine Valley Road in Winston-Salem, Burr was optimistic about Donald J. Trump’s chances of conquering the White House. Long-term helpers and family members rolled their eyes. OK whatever you say.

Burr had good reason to believe. The 60-year-old former appliance salesman was on the same ticket with Trump, running for his third term as Republican from the state of Tar Heel. For more than a year, Burr watched voters turn out with increasing intensity. In tiny places in the east like Rose Hill, Trump rallies would be planned for 12,000 supporters. 25,000 would show up. And the first 5,000 of them waited in line for two hours.

The crowd listened as Trump gave the game away, a Burr had spent a career as a player. The Manhattan real estate developer mocked the presidency of George W. Bush, railed against bipartisan trade deals signed by thousands of American factories, attacked measures favoring illegal immigrants over US citizens, and selected spy masters and their benefactors to get poor track records and promote a fraudulent war in Iraq.

Burr was able to admit some of these uncomfortable facts (in 2004 he said NAFTA was “a net loss to North Carolina”), but resented Trump’s abuse of the Bush family and GOP orthodoxy. However, he realized that it was in his best interest not to make waves and focus on winning his own race. The evidence at GOP headquarters in Forsyth County was clear: everyone who walked in asked for a Donald Trump courtyard sign. Everyone other Person asked about a Donald Trump and Richard Burr courtyard sign.

Burr’s campaign style went back to his days of sales. He slipped into his Acura and drove from place to place, spending half the day walking up and down Main Street in small towns across the state. Talk to the voters, shake hands with them. When asked why he wasn’t in one of the big cities like Charlotte, Raleigh or Greensboro, Burr replied, “My people aren’t there.”

When Burr got tired, he checked into a Comfort Inn. “Can I get access to the conference room?” he would ask the front desk clerk. Sometimes the senator would get up at two in the morning and print out something he needed for the next day’s campaign schedule.

Now, in the most unpredictable campaign in modern American history, Burr appeared to be rolling to victory against a Liberal Raleigh official, Deborah K. Ross. When the days before the election dwindled, the man on top of the ticket also got a tailwind. Hillary Clinton’s line that Trump was a sinister, shadowy figure associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin did not resonate with voters.

On election night, Burr made his way to the nearby Forsyth Country Club, where his supporters gathered. Phillip Phillips’ song “Home” was played through the sound system: “Hold me tight as we walk / As we roll down this unknown road / And though this wave carries us away / Just know that you are not alone / Because I’ll make this place your home …

At 10:32 a.m., Burr stood on the podium in the dining room to celebrate the victory. His followers cheered. “Impressive!” he said. “This one is better than anyone else … This is a victory for everyone who believed in me and who continues to trust that my values ​​correspond to your values.”

Burr thanked his family and quoted from a sermon given by his father, the late Rev. David Burr, who led the First Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem from 1962 to 1986. It is our responsibility to participate in the action. He taught me to do my part. I intend to continue my duties until the next term in the Senate as I have tried to do my best for the past 22 years. “

The usual GOP tropes followed. “We will not retire for freedom”; “We have freedom that runs through our veins”; “We live in the greatest country known to mankind.” It should have been a relaxed night for a man who announced months earlier that this would be his last race, but Burr was reading from a script. He seemed uncomfortable.

Just as Burr said, “We don’t know what to expect in the coming nation,” Trump scored critical victories in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Life is and will remain a circle,” continued Burr. “People are born, they live their lives and hopefully make a difference. Then their lives end and they are replaced by a new generation.”

At 2:30 in the morning, the networks announced the winner of the presidency. Chyrons are spread across each channel: DONALD TRUMP ELECTED PRESIDENT. With this news, Richard Burr was forced to make a decision that would define his character and set a divided course for the nation.

* * *

Until 2017, when Burr became chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I hadn’t given his career serious thought since he was elected to the U.S. House in 1994. Why should I? For most of a decade, Burr was a GOP post-Cold War Congressman. He ran for election and won a Senate seat in 2004 that focused on constituent services and was re-elected twice.

The idea that Burr oversee all spy agencies came to mind Our man in Havana, Graham Greene’s 1958 dark comic parodying espionage bureaucracies. Greene writes about a vacuum cleaner salesman, James Wormold, who is approached by a British Intel officer. “We have to have our man in Havana, you know,” says the officer. London is building the Caribbean network and wants Wormold to spy on them. The seller accepts the offer because he needs additional income to support his flamboyant teenage daughter. He invents information about Russian threats, draws diagrams of vacuum cleaners that he says are missiles, creates fake agents from names in the phone book, and then packages the reports to his spy masters. London is impressed.

When you ask former aides to name Burr’s main accomplishment, they don’t mention his work with spy agencies. Instead, they cite things like his maneuvering the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in favor of North Carolina. “Richard came up with the idea that if you want to drill offshore, we would like royalties and receive them to support the beach food, inter-coast waterway and dredging,” says a longtime consultant. “This got the environmentalists to say,” Wait, we’re going to get a bunch of money for this? “

As much as I love my home state and still follow politics there, I’d never heard Richard Burr receive that money or that it was important. The media keep getting things backwards or missing the real story. Aside from being a demon deacon, Burr was just another DC Republican to me, singing from the same songbook that got him elected to Congress.

When Burr arrived in Washington in 1995, another Wake Forest alumnus and I met him in the bar at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. Richard ordered a beer. “Put it in the bottle,” he said to the waitress, “makes me think I’m home again.” He struck me as the personification of Tom Wolfe’s good old boy. It never occurred to me that one day Richard would become so adept at playing the game.

He wasn’t intended for the game, the United States Senate, or chairing any committee that oversees all American spies. His father was a well-known minister and president of the Rotary club. Burr’s most open connection to politics was that of his ancestors – he is a distant relative of Aaron Burr, who became known as a character to many Americans Hamilton who kills Lin-Manuel Miranda in a duel. Prior to that, Aaron Burr was Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, a fate that would make him one of the most maligned characters in American history.

Richard’s father devoted himself to exposing the attacks against Aaron Burr, his ninth generation cousin. Most of them stemmed from Jefferson’s determination to destroy him because he was threatened by Burr’s appeal. Jefferson accused Burr of treason with no evidence (as we now say). Burr, he alleged, was guilty of “stirring up rebellion, deceiving and seducing honest and well-meaning citizens on various pretexts for engaging in their various criminal ventures.” In 1807, Jefferson had Aaron Burr arrested for “suspicious activity.” Of Burr’s guilt, Jefferson stated, “There can be no doubt.” Burr was brought to justice. And acquitted twice.

“Aaron Burr did a bad business,” Rev. Burr told the Associated Press in 1987. At that time he was president of the Aaron Burr Association. Regarding the duel, Rev. Burr said, “Hamilton is the one who challenged Burr and Hamilton obviously lost.” When asked if Burr was a traitor, Rev. Burr said, “It took some time for the true facts to come to light … he was fully exonerated.”

With no political inclination, Richard turned to athletics. At the R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, he played soccer. Burr became a star linebacker and helped the team win a county championship where he was named Forsyth County Offensive Player of the Year in 1973. His accomplishments caught the attention of Chuck Mills, head coach of the Wake Forest University soccer team, the “Demon Deacons. “Mills signed Richard on a football scholarship to play in 1974.

That season, Mills told the campus newspaper that Old gold & black, “We honestly feel we are on the brink of a solid and prestigious football program.” To anyone who watched sports on Tobacco Road at the time, a ghost seemed to hang over Wake Forest. Mills alluded to it at an unguarded moment on local radio discussing the upcoming soccer schedule. “Saturday September 28th will be the best Saturday of the season,” he said, “because we don’t have to play against anyone on September 28th.”

Demon deacons are used to losing in athletics. In the 71 years before Richard joined the football team, Wake had only 25 winning seasons. They lost game after game in Richard’s freshman year. By the middle of the season, the Deacs were on the Los Angeles times “Bottom 10” rankings.

But Richard still looked promising. At 6 ‘2’ ‘and 195 pounds, he was a solid player, big and fast, who stayed insane. (My parents were friends with another player, Solomon Everett, and we played a lot of games.) Richard kept moving and sustaining so many injuries and scars that his teammates called him “Zipper”.

* * *

There was a time when North Carolina political giants in both parties were outraged by abuses of the national security state. Long before Senator Sam Ervin became a popular hero for presiding over the Watergate hearings, the Morganton Democrat led a crusade against the army spying on civilians. He was hailed by Robert Sherrill, Washington correspondent for The nation, for “being the closest we come to a federal ombudsman in the crusade against Big Brother”.

Senator Jesse Helms, a staunch anti-communist, condemned the FBI wiretapping and wiretapping as “the whole stinking mess of American politics.” In 1974, Helms said, “Bobby Kennedy tapped the phones of everyone in sight, including 38 Senators. Let’s see who else did it.”

In 1975, the Senate voted 82-4 to set up the Senate Committee to Investigate Government Operations relating to Intelligence Services to launch a massive investigation into allegations of wrongdoing. Members included Senator Robert Morgan of North Carolina, a graduate of Wake Forest University Law School, who was particularly interested in the probe.

Morgan said he was drawn to the investigation when he heard I.R.S. Agents had “engaged in many illegal activities” to trap taxpayers. “I remember one case where a banker from the Bahamas was in this country doing an investigation,” Morgan said. “The IRS wanted some papers in his briefcase, so they literally put him up with a woman in Florida, in Miami, and then got him about half drunk, and while he was drunk with the woman, they robbed his briefcase, which Documents photographed and filed back. “

The committee exposed spying on US citizens such as opening mail, tapping phone calls, and tapping into bedrooms. Interference in domestic politics; Harassment and murder of civil rights leaders, Vietnam War protesters and radicals; and subversion of foreign governments.

In August 1975, the committee chairman, Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, appeared Meet the press explain why the committee was important. “To develop the ability to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological ability that allows us to monitor the messages that go through the air,” Church said. “These messages are between ships at sea, they can be between military units on site – we have a very extensive ability to intercept messages, wherever they are in the air wave … no American would have privacy, so the ability to monitor everything is – Telephone calls, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. “

“If ever a dictator were to take command in this country,” Church said, “the technological capacity that the Intel community has put at the disposal of the government could allow it to impose total tyranny and there would be no way.” to fight back because the most careful efforts are being made to band together. ” in opposition to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. “

The members of the committee hoped that what they started in 1975 would be permanent. They wanted to inspire an ongoing mission to “see that all government agencies … operate within the law and under proper supervision”.

* * *

In 1978 Richard graduated from Wake with a degree in communications. It developed into a state that was the headquarters of industries – tobacco, textiles, and furniture. Cannon Mills in Kannapolis produced half of the country’s towels and a fifth of bed linen. Almost 35 percent of North Carolinians worked in production, more than any other state. Rev. Burr helped Richard get a full-time position at Carswell Distributing Co., which sold equipment in the Winston-Salem area. One of his first tasks was to demonstrate kerosene heaters to potential customers.

Richard bought a house on Polo Road near the Wake Forest Campus. The place needed a lot of work, and Richard had just the man for it, a student named Tom Fetzer. They met when both students got jobs at The Hub Ltd., a men’s clothing store on Hanes Mall. Fetzer soon learned an important fact about his friend: “Richard Burr is the closest man you have ever met.” Richard showed Fetzer his new house and said, “If you help me fix this place, I’ll let you live here for free.” Fetzer agreed and moved in. “I went in as his indented servant.”

The house took a lot of work. “Paint was scraped off, painted, all sorts of things,” says Fetzer. “One day Richard asked me to mow the back yard. I said, “All right.” So I’m out there mowing the back yard and all of a sudden my legs just catch fire. I had met a wasp’s nest that he knew was there – he just didn’t know where it was. Richard stood on the screened porch and looked me to find out where it was. “

Oil prices were high in the winter of 1979 and Richard’s house had an oil stove. “But he never burned a drop the whole time we lived there,” recalls Fetzer. Instead, Richard bought a wood stove from his employer, put it in the basement and theoretically heated the whole house. “Well, I lived in the downstairs bedroom and went to bed with a sweatshirt, stocking cap, and ski gloves. You could see your breath in my room, ”says Fetzer.

During the time they lived together, Fetzer, not Burr, was interested in politics. That summer, a well-known Republican attorney, Fred Hutchins, hosted a fundraiser for John P. East, a professor of political science at East Carolina University, in his residence. He wanted to defeat Senator Morgan in the 1980 election, the same Senator who exposed the espionage agencies’ misconduct. Fetzer was friends with Hutchins’ daughter and Hutchins asked him to bartend for the event. It was there that Fetzer met Thomas F. Ellis, the top strategist for East and Helms, who had also helped shape Ronald Reagan’s main victory in North Carolina in 1976. “Come to us when you’ve finished school,” Ellis said to Fetzer. When classes finished that fall, Fetzer went to Raleigh to meet Ellis and was hired for $ 850 a month to work in East’s campaign. In November 1980, East defeated Morgan by just over 10,000 votes.

For the next decade, Burr continued to work as a salesman for Carswell. He married a girl from nearby Salem College, Brooke Fauth, and they had two boys (Fetzer is the godfather of their eldest son). Fetzer remained active in politics and in 1988 challenged incumbent Congressman David Price, a Democrat from the Triangle. “Although George Bush won the presidential election, I was thoroughly devastated,” says Fetzer.

During a Christmas visit to the Burrs after that defeat, Burr informed Fetzer that he could run for Congress. “We were in his kitchen and I said, ‘What? ‘He said,’ Yes, the boys are coming of age and I am very concerned about where this country is going and what future they have to go. I want to do that. “I never saw it coming,” says Fetzer. “But Richard turned out to be a natural politician.”

* * *

Between 1969 and 1975, North Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District was represented by a former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell. After Watergate, he was defeated by a 40-year-old mortgage banker and newspaper publisher, Stephen L. Neal, who was originally from Winston-Salem.

I remember Neal as a centrist Democrat who survived the Reagan and Bush landslides in the 1980s. In 1992, Burr declared himself against him. “We’re going to run a campaign on“ It’s time to get Washington going again. ”(Has it ever?) He came to the Wake Forest campus where I was a student and was looking for support that fall, but his bad luck was that he was made to run by “lack of representation” from Neal. After a year of the insurgent candidacies of Patrick J. Buchanan and Ross Perot showing voter outrage over the establishment, Burr’s anodyne message was for that political climate unsuitable.

Speaking at a small meeting at the Benson Center that I attended, he said, “I really believe we’re at a crossroads this year in America. America has to choose between decline and prosperity. As long as our policies are against business and…” If it is anti-growth, we will not change. ”In addition to the common platitudes, Burr also expressed support for the veto of line items, which even Reagan could not do, although he insisted on it during his two terms in office.

Nobody at the national GOP level believed that Burr had a chance of victory for any good reason. Bill Clinton ran for president at the top of the Democratic ticket and Neal sacked Burr as a “Japanese gadget seller”. (As a top North Carolina Democrat says, “At the time, Japanese products weren’t really welcome here in North Carolina.”) Sure enough, Burr suffered defeat.

“We thought we had a chance,” says Chuck Greene. He was just out of Wake Forest and was working as the Burrs Western Field Director. “Actually, we didn’t do badly. If you look at the bottom line, and it’s a big Democratic year with Bill Clinton’s win and Steve Neal beating us to get 47 percent where we ended up – we thought that was pretty good. “

For Washington Republicans, the race put Burr on the map. Neal decided to get out while he was still in front.

* * *

In 1994, North Carolina had a “blue moon election” as it is known in the state, a rarity that did not have any Senate or governor competitions on the ballot. President Bill Clinton had become unpopular in North Carolina, and Hillary’s plan to overtake health care had hit roadblocks. Sensing the chance to score a win, Newt Gingrich left the big whip of the minority house big GOP money behind. Burr raised more than $ 600,000. For the first time since 1972, the Fifth Ward seemed open to Republicans. Neal announced his resignation and the Democrats drafted Senator Alexander “Sandy” Sands to replace Neal.

While the GOP introduced Gingrich’s treaty with America as a national issue, the biggest local problem was NAFTA. Burr declared his support for the free trade agreement and followed the party line that NAFTA would be a winner for the district. He also attacked Sands for raising his own salary in the General Assembly. “That wasn’t technically correct,” recalls Sands. “As legislators, we voted to pass the budget, which allows every state employee a certain percentage increase. It applies to everyone and did not come into force until you were re-elected. “

In November, Burr won 57 percent. SALESMAN BURR HEADS TO WASHINGTON was the headline in the Charlotte Observer. There was an excerpt from Burr’s wife Brooke: “He was always a leader. He was on the soccer team. He was in a brotherhood. He never missed a Sunday at church. “

Before Burr took office, he met with campaign strategist Paul Shumaker. “You have ten years to find me a landing site across the country,” he said. His message to Shumaker was: I believe in term limits, and five terms are the highest I will serve in the House. Over the next several years, “we prepared him to work and build relationships nationwide,” Shumaker says.

It wasn’t long before Burr mastered the way the people of Washington speak without saying anything. Burr appeared in 1995 with a group of House Republicans to announce the formation of a group called the Mainstream Conservative Alliance and said the mission was “fiscal sanity.” He stated: “Solutions are non-partisan. We still have a long way to go in this institution, but this is the first step of what I think will be many for the foreseeable future, and I am glad to be a part of it. “

Later that fall, Burr appeared at a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event, the Washington Issues Seminar, hosted by Rep. Bill Hefner, an old-fashioned Democrat and former gospel singer in the Harvesters Quartet who represented the Eighth District. In the morning session, Hefner urged everyone to get some coffee and Danish and settle in when he introduced the new congressman. “Richard is a very articulate young man from Winston-Salem and in the short time he’s been here I’ve learned to have a lot of respect for him.”

Burr stepped forward with his horizontally striped tie and congressional pin and shook a couple of hands as he walked on. He joked about trying to work your way through Gingrich’s reading list. Regarding the 53 Republicans elected with him nationwide, Burr said, “This is not a partisan class,” although what had happened was viewed as a political revolution and for the first time since 1952 that the GOP took control of Capitol Hill had.

Before unsubscribing, Burr confirmed another participant in the affair that morning, Albert R. Hunt Jr., then head of the Washington office Wall Street Journal, and also a graduate of Wake Forest, class of 1965. Hunt was one of the most well-known mediocrities in all of Washington journalism, always a reliable source of useless conventional wisdom and leftist attitudes. Outside the Beltway, reporters wondered how Hunt kept his job. But Burr took a different approach. “I don’t think there is a person who has a better understanding of what is happening in the city,” he said. When I heard that line, I knew Richard was well on his way to finding the right tickets to success in DC.

* * *

“Do you know Wilkes County?” Neal Cashion, the former mayor of North Wilkesboro, asks me. He describes the long chances he faced in 1996 when he tried to knock Richard Burr off the field. “I’ve lived here my whole life. Hell, if you live here and you’re a Democrat, you have to fight the weather, the devil, and the Republican Party – in this damned way to tell you the truth about it. “I checked and the last Democrat to promote Wilkes County to president was Andrew Jackson in 1832. According to Cashion, Governor Jim Hunt asked him to run to fill the Democratic ticket. “They needed a full blackboard this year,” he says.

He recalls putting around $ 100,000 of his own money into the race and getting a little help from the Democratic Party, but it was impossible to convince big business to listen to him. Cashion called the Miller High Life plant in Rockingham County to see if he could tour and meet the workers, and executives said, no, we’re for Richard Burr, we can’t let you in.

“The Clinton Gore bunch spoke out against tobacco, so it was like standing on the corner collecting money,” recalls Cashion.

Burr and Cashion met for a debate in Winston-Salem. “I probably did a pretty good job,” says Cashion. “That was my first debate as a candidate. There is no such thing in a small town race. Here Burr bragged repeatedly about being the son of a Presbyterian minister. They made a video of it. “

How did you rate Richard Burr? I asked. “It was very polished, very familiar with the subject, it was in Newt Gingrich’s pocket.”

Cashion says, “I’m not a Richard Burr fan. I always thought his father was a nice guy. He came here and preached some in our church. His son didn’t like Presbyterians for one reason or another.” Visiting the Burrs now the Centenary United Methodist Church in downtown Winston-Salem, known more for the social climbing of its members than for the teaching of its pastor.

“I grew up in my grandfather’s house and my grandfather was a great Presbyterian,” says Cashion. “And you always hear of, ‘Well, we have to do this for the preacher, we have to help the preacher’s son, we have to help the preacher’s wife, we have to help the preacher’s daughter – always do something for the preacher’s boys want to have to pick up a collection all the time. And it got me thinking, Burr bragging about being the son of a Presbyterian minister, and when he first got the chance, he changed his religious affiliation to something else. I thought damn what a traitor. It’s the damn truth. He sucked on the Presbyterian teat for years and then spat it out for some reason. “

With the district more Republican, Burr received 62 percent of the vote and secured his place in Washington. Neil Cashion says he’s lucky just to see the golf channel these days.

* * *

Im Februar 1999 bat ihn eine kleine Gruppe von Geschäftsleuten, die Burr unterstützten, für den Gouverneur zu kandidieren. Shumaker riet Burr davon ab, indem er sagte, sie wollten ihre eigenen Geschäftsinteressen schützen. “Meine Aufgabe ist es, Ihr Interesse zu schützen”, sagte Shumaker zu ihm. “Sie sind noch nicht dazu bereit, und dies ist auch nicht Ihr Problem.”

Burr blieb im Kongress und glaubte nach dem 11. September, dass Spione die erste Verteidigungslinie gegen die Dschihadisten waren. Er nahm einen Platz im House Committee on Intelligence ein, wo er neben Nancy Pelosi saß und hochrangige Geheimdienstbeamte befragte. Im Oktober 2002 stimmte er für den Krieg im Irak und wurde ein starker Befürworter von Präsident George W. Bush. Er begann, das FISA-Gericht und das Patriot Act als Werkzeuge anzusehen, mit denen Spione die terroristische Bedrohung zurückschlagen konnten.

Als die besten politischen Berater im Weißen Haus von Bush nach potenziellen Kandidaten für den US-Senat für 2004 suchten, beeindruckte Burr sie als jemanden, auf den sie sich verlassen konnten. („Ihre Hauptkriterien waren Menschen, die tun würden, was sie wollten“, sagt der langjährige politische Stratege Carter Wrenn aus North Carolina, der für Helms and East arbeitete.) Karl Rove sagte, er habe mit den Burrs gesprochen – „ohne trifft er keine politische Entscheidung Seine Frau Brooke ist sehr schlau “- und sagte ihnen, wenn Richard sich entschied zu rennen,„ sind wir dabei, Geld, Murmeln und Kreide. “

Burr musste sich nie wieder um eine Wahl sorgen. Sein Engagement für die Abwicklung von Geschäften wurde im Senat als ernst angesehen und brachte ihm Lob von Teddy Kennedy und Harry Reid ein. Unter der Führung des GOP-Senats war Burr das Arbeitstier. Es gibt kein Drama mit ihm, er wird seinen Kopf senken. Während der Präsidentschaft von Barack Obama wandte sich Burr an den Mehrheitsführer des Senats, Mitch McConnell, und die Spionageagenturen, um Anweisungen für die nächsten Schritte zu erhalten. McConnell bereitete Burr darauf vor, den Platz des zurückgetretenen stellvertretenden Vorsitzenden des Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Saxby Chambliss aus Georgia (einer von Burrs engen Freunden) einzunehmen.

Während die Tabak-, Textil- und Möbelindustrie, die einst kleine Städte in ganz North Carolina füllte, geschlossen wurde, liebte Burr die Briefings und die Kollegialität mit den Spionagemeistern. Er weigerte sich sogar, Waterboarding zu verurteilen. Während einer endlosen Anhörung mit CIA-Direktor John Brennan im Jahr 2013 scherzte Burr: „Ich werde versuchen, mich kurz zu fassen, weil ich bemerke, dass Sie auf Ihrem vierten Glas Wasser stehen, und ich möchte nicht beschuldigt werden, Waterboarding zu betreiben Sie.” Er sagte, er betrachte jede Anstrengung, Anhörungen über CIA-Folter abzuhalten, als einen Versuch, die Bush-Regierung zu beschmutzen. Als eine Mitarbeiterin von Senatorin Dianne Feinstein entdeckte, dass die CIA Komitee-Computer ausspionierte, schien es Burr nicht zu stören. Leben in der Welt der Spionage – “Dafür steht er auf und atmet”, sagt ein ehemaliger Adjutant.

* * *

Wenn Donald Trumps Fahrt auf der Rolltreppe im Jahr 2015 etwas enthüllte, gehörte er nicht zum Club. Wie Gore Vidal in seinem Roman von 1967 beschreibt Washington, D.C.“Niemand war sich jemals ganz sicher, wer dem Club angehört, da die Mitglieder seine Existenz bestritten haben, aber jeder wusste, wer nicht dazu gehörte.” Burr wusste sofort, dass Trump kein Mitglied war und es auch nie sein würde. Dies wurde noch verstärkt, als Trump sagte, das Spionagegeschäft sei Geldverschwendung und inkompetent, da sie das Ende des Kalten Krieges, den 11. September, die Massenvernichtungswaffen und den Aufstieg Chinas verpassten.

Ich habe ein Jahr damit verbracht, das zu dirigieren Playboy Interview with former NSA and CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden when Trump was running for president. The last spymaster to sit for a Playboy Interview was William Colby in 1978. Colby’s more than 10,000-word interview maintained the tradition of publicly staying out of domestic politics. Hayden’s did not.

In August 2016, Hayden and other former national security officials, from the Nixon to the Bush administrations, signed an “open letter” that was publicized through every media outlet in the world. “Trump has dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” they wrote. “We are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being. None of us will vote for Donald Trump.” Trump responded by saying that people such as Hayden were the same ones who brought us the war in Iraq and allowed Americans to die in Benghazi.

Days after Trump was elected, President Obama ordered our 17 intelligence agencies to conduct an investigation and write a report about alleged Russian interference in the election. The report was released to the public on January 6, 2017. It said that all of the spy agencies were in agreement that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. Presidential election.” The document was a tool meant to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s election.

With six years remaining in his political career, Burr was in the position to correct the narrative that the election was stolen by Putin for Trump, as chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. He refused to push back and decided that he was going to undertake the same investigation that Obama had ordered, except this time run it through the Senate committee.

A few days later, BuzzFeed published the notorious “Steele Dossier,” written by a British spy, Christopher Steele, who hated Trump and was paid by Hillary’s campaign. The document portrayed Trump as a Russian stooge cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow. Despite its lack of evidence, it circulated among top U.S. spies, who seemed to relish reading and disseminating it. Over Twitter and in person, President Trump attacked the dossier and the espionage apparatus that generated it.

This “antagonism, this taunting to the intelligence community,” as Rachel Maddow described Trump’s response, caused Hayden, Brennan, NSA director James Clapper, CIA deputy director Michael Morrell, and FBI director James Comey to double down against the president. They broadcast their antipathy for him through a myriad of channels, continued spying on Trump and his advisors, and sought to neutralize him through leaks. Their anger was telegraphed in the interview Sen. Chuck Schumer gave Rachel Maddow shortly after Trump was sworn in. “Let me tell you,” he said, “you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you… From what I am told, they are very upset with how he has treated them and talked about them.”

On March 29, 2017, I watched as Burr appeared on the podium in the Senate Radio-TV Gallery studio. He was sweating as he announced his probe. “Our mission is to earn the trust and respect of the intelligence community so they feel open and good about sharing information with us because that enables us to do our oversight job that much better,” he said.

For the next three years, Burr said he was overseeing “one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here.” He didn’t really “oversee” it. He put a longtime aide, Chris Joyner, who had also worked as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, in charge and ceded considerable authority to the committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat, of Virginia. In public, Burr bragged about the extraordinary number of witnesses he and the committee questioned. In reality, some vital witnesses never even laid eyes on Burr.

Tom (I shall disguise his real identity) got subpoenaed by Burr and Warner for “documents related to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.” Tom was ordered to appear in person at the committee or go to jail. Tom hired a lawyer, complied with Burr’s request, and appeared on Capitol Hill for what he thought was going to be an interview with Chairman Burr. “Not only did I not see Burr, but the staff played a game with me where they pretend, ‘Oh we’re so bipartisan, you won’t even be able to guess who works for whom.’ You’ve got all these people in the room with various agendas and in between questions they run outside and leak to the press. A bunch of really shitty, untalented people. In the intelligence community, they’re looked down on as losers and wannabes, people who couldn’t get into the agencies.” In the end, Tom spent close to $250,000 on lawyers and his life was ruined.

Burr and Warner released five volumes of a study that concluded that Russia did what they had been doing since the Bolshevik Revolution—though in 2016 they were so stupid they spent $100,000 on Facebook ads, some of which appeared after the election. Out of some 200 witnesses, none could swear to having any evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, conspired, or coordinated with any member of the Russian government.

While committee staff members were investigating Trump and Russia, FBI agents caught the committee’s director of security, James A. Wolfe, leaking classified and disparaging information about Trump and others close to the president to reporters, including one with whom he was having sex. (“I always tried to give you as much information that I could and to do the right thing with it so you could get that scoop before anyone else,” Wolfe texted the reporter in 2017. “I always enjoyed the way that you would pursue a story like nobody else was doing in my hallway.”) After Wolfe pled guilty to lying to the FBI and was set to be sentenced to prison, Burr, Warner, and Feinstein wrote to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and beseeched her to give Wolfe leniency. In December 2018 she sentenced Wolfe to two months in prison and fined him $7,500.

At the end of Our Man in Havana, Wormold confesses. His “intelligence” has been a scam. There is no threat. The spymasters in London need to keep this quiet. Determined to avoid embarrassment, they give Wormold an award, the Order of the British Empire, and a prestigious teaching post at headquarters.

Soon after President Trump left office in January, officials at the Department of Justice contacted Burr. For almost a year, they’d investigated him because following a private briefing from intel agencies in early 2020 regarding the coming pandemic, he liquidated his stocks. The Burrs were spared some $250,000 in losses. We won’t be charging you with any crimes, Justice officials at long last informed him.

“The case is now closed,” Burr announced in a statement. “I’m glad to hear it. My focus has been and will continue to be working for the people of North Carolina during this difficult time for our nation.”

John Meroney is contributing editor of Garden & Gun and consulting producer of the upcoming CNN Originals documentary series, The Woman Who Took Down the KKK.

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