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Impeachment vote becomes defining moment for GOP senator

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WASHINGTON When Senator Richard Burr stood up and found guilty, there were muffled gasps in the Senate chamber. But North Carolina Republicans voting to condemn former President Donald Trump shouldn’t have come as a shock.

In a way, he had telegraphed his willingness to hold Trump accountable for several years.

Months before Trump began falsely claiming that the November election was stolen from him, the Senate Intelligence Committee led by Burr warned that sitting officials should exercise the utmost restraint and caution. ‘they plan to publicly call for the validity of a neighbor. election in question. Such serious allegations, the committee said in February 2020, can have significant national security implications.

Explaining his vote to condemn Trump for inciting an insurgency on Capitol Hill on Jan.6, Burr returned to this theme. He said Trump has promoted baseless conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election.

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There was no widespread election fraud, as Trump falsely claimed for several months and again to his supporters just before the riot, a fact confirmed by election officials across the country and even by Trump’s Attorney General William Barr.

When the Capitol was attacked, Burr said in the statement, Trump used his office to inflame the situation first instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault.

For Burr, it was a categorical statement after years of careful commentary on Trump, much of which was made while investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. The guilty vote placed him among a group of seven Republicans in the Senate – and 10 Republicans in the House – who made Trump the second most bipartisan indictment in history.

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With Burr retiring at the end of his term in 2022, it’s a vote that could end up defining his career.

It also came with the price.

The North Carolina Republican Party voted unanimously to censor Burr in the days following the Feb.13 vote, as Republicans across the state and across the country made clear their continued loyalty to Trump.

Bad vote Senator Burr tweeted former Republican Mark Walker, who has already declared his candidacy for the Senate. I am running to replace Richard Burr because North Carolina needs a true Conservative champion as their next senator.

Burr declined to be interviewed for this story. But many of his GOP colleagues congratulated him after the vote.

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican who voted for Trump’s acquittal, said after the state’s censure vote that Burr was a great friend and a great senator who voted his conscience. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, one of seven Republicans who voted to convict and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said Burr “is a leader, not a motormouth” who has distinguished himself with bipartisan work in the committee.

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Richard doesn’t hesitate to make tough calls because he does his homework and knows the facts, he doesn’t waste time putting his finger in the wind, Sasse said.

Offbeat and low-key politician known for his dry sense of humor, loathing for wearing socks and driving a 1970s Volkswagen convertible covered in bumper stickers, Burr served in Congress for nearly of three decades. A former Wake Forest football player and lawn equipment salesman, he was elected to the House during the 1994 Republican wave and befriended Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, before Boehner becomes president.

First elected to the Senate in 2004, Burr said after his re-election in 2016 that his third term would be his last – a preemptive retreat from politics that has proven to be substantial.

After Trump was elected, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Wondered how to respond to allegations of Russian interference in the presidential election that Trump had just won. Burr not seeking another term, he was an ideal candidate to lead the politically explosive investigation.

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Authorized as chairman of the committee, Burr gradually became a quiet check on Trump’s powers over the course of the three-year investigation. He worked closely with the committee’s top Democrat, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, as they sifted through highly classified information, including some about Trump and his associates.

Burr kept the partnership until the end, even as Republicans strongly opposed the Russia probe and followed Trump’s lead in calling it a hoax.

Warner said in an interview that he thinks one of the main things that guided Burr was to make sure that intelligence agencies get the respect they deserve. It meant pushing back Trump, who criticized the agencies for investigating Russia and suggested they conspired against him by undermining the 2016 election. Burr endorsed the 2017 agencies’ conclusion that Russia had interfered with it. elections and favored Trump, even though the former president refused to do so.

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Burr has shown time and time again he’s going to do what he thinks is right, Warner said.

Warners’ counterpart across Capitol Hill, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Said Burr was working in good faith with Democrats and was determined to ensure that agencies could do their job without fear of politicization.

But Burr was also politically cautious.

While the committee exposed Russia’s hacking and disinformation efforts around the 2016 election and warned of future attacks, Burr did so primarily without directly criticizing Trump. On several occasions, Burr has said he saw no evidence of coordination with Russia, keeping him in the good graces of his fellow Republicans and the White House.

But unlike others investigating election interference, Burr rarely spoke about his work. He also said he would stop visiting the White House while the investigation was ongoing.

In a rare interview with The Associated Press in the summer of 2018, Burr said the Russia investigation had been frustrating as hell. But he also said the integrity of the investigation and its importance to the Senate deserved to be protected. Nothing in this city is ever kept classified or secret, Burr said, adding that people will be examining his efforts in the future.

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But as the investigation dragged on, the patience of his GOP colleagues was exhausted. More than two years after the investigation began, in May 2019, Burr subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son who had met a Russian lawyer during the campaign. The reaction of his own party was swift.

Burr upheld the decision. He explained his rationale at a private GOP lunch to his skeptical colleagues, gaining McConnell’s support.

Exactly a year later, as the Russia investigation came to an end, Burrs’ time as head of the committee came to an abrupt end.

Federal agents arrived at Burrs’ home in the Washington area and seized his cell phone. The Justice Department was investigating whether it had exploited preliminary information when it unloaded up to $ 1.7 million in inventory in the days leading up to the coronavirus outbreak. Burr denied trading on private information, but stepped back from his role on the committee amid the uproar.

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He was not released until almost a year later, on January 19, Trumps’ last full day in power. A spokesperson for the department confirmed that he would not press charges against Burr but declined to comment.

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former aide to Burr who has known him for over 20 years, said Burr has never wavered even as the political landscape in Washington has changed over the past five years. He said it would have been politically easier for Burr to conduct a Russia inquiry like the one in the House, which was highly partisan.

I had no idea he was going to condemn, but I wasn’t very surprised, Heye said.

As the impeachment process unfolded in January, Burr said very little. Unlike some of his colleagues who were publicly suffering from their votes, he refused to speak to reporters around the Capitol. He sided with most Republicans in a vote to dismiss the lawsuit, creating an expectation that he also votes for acquittal.

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So when Burr stood up to vote for Trump’s conviction, many MPs wondered if there would be any more surprises. Could there be enough Republican guilty votes to make Trump the first president even convicted in an impeachment trial? Was Burr an informer?

He was not. The vote was 57 to 43, 10 votes less than the necessary two-thirds majority. In the end, seven Republicans voted to convict but only Burrs came without warning.

I don’t take this decision lightly, Burr said in a statement after the vote, but I think it is necessary.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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