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Senate intelligence committee members visit UT, discuss Russian election interference

Senators John Cornyn, Mark Warner and Richard Burr visited UT on Friday to discuss national security (Photo: CBS Austin)

Some key players in the Senate investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election made a stop in Austin Friday.

Senators John Cornyn, Mark Warner and Richard Burr are some of the legislators who agreed that Russia did interfere.

They are also members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which has been investigating Russian interference for two years, an investigation that is different from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to determine whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian interference.

It was a rare chance for people in the audience at UT to hear about the Russian interference investigation firsthand.

“The intelligence community was a little caught off guard at the ability for a foreign entity to massively use social media to manipulate news, to pit Americans against each other,” said Senator Warner, (D) Virginia. Warner is the vice chairman of the committee; Senator Burr is the chairman.

In July, the committee released its initial report, supporting the Intelligence Community Assessment that there was Russian interference in the 2016 election. “What they did is take their cyber ability, their ability to steal online and added to that their propaganda effort,” Senator Cornyn told the audience.

Friday, the senators told the UT audience when they began investigating two years ago, they did not think they would find what they did. ” We never dreamed that we would find as coordinated, complicated, focused effort by Russia,” said Senator Burr.

It became clear the interference was more than Russians buying ads on social media.

“The real issue was the ability to create fake personas and create followers not on politics but a site that might promote Texas football or gardening,” Burr said.

A very real example was a Facebook page linked to Russians that promoted Texas secession, although it was riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and awkward sentence constructions that suggested the writer or writers were not American-born native speakers of English.

There is still a final report to be signed by the committee, which is nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Senator burr says they'll get it done. “I always base that on if we stayed focused on facts, that members could find agreement," said Sen. Burr.

You can read the committee’s initial report, released in July, here.

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