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Photos: Drew Angerer / Getty Images; Leigh Vogel / WireImage; Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Robert Mueller isn't the only one hot on the trail of the Russians' election interference and Facebook manipulation.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, tells us that based on witness testimony and documents that he has seen behind closed doors, the Russia probe is "the most important thing I will ever work on."

"I feel that more strongly today than even a year ago. And we don't even have near the tools that Robert Mueller has in his investigation."
— Warner at an Axios News Shapers event on Thursday

In TV interviews over the past year, Warner has been candid as he vacillated between thinking there's more smoke or more fire. Now, he clearly sees fire.

  • The committee plans to go hard after Facebook to cough up more about Russia-sponsored ads, and after Trump's inner circle to spill more about connections to Putin people.

Up first: Calling back Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and other "principals involved in some of these activities" for more Intelligence Committee questioning.

  • When those witnesses came to the committee before, they were interviewed by staff. This time, they'll be questioned by the senators themselves.
  • Warner: "We could debate whether they come back in public or private. I would lean more towards public."

What's next for Facebook: Warner said that Facebook still hasn't been fully candid, and plans to require more information about what happened in 2016, and more transparency on future political ads.

  • Warner wants independent experts to have access to the Russia targeting data, to provide "a third‑party, almost academic, analysis."
  • Warner on Facebook: "I would like to have a higher confidence they've really done the investigation of all possible Russian [connections]. And some of the Russian sites were actually ... started or activated outside of Russia but are were still controlled by them."

Why this matters: President Trump believes this investigation is wrapping up, and he'll soon be cleared. But few others agree.

  • Mueller, Warner and others plan to make sure that the same story that dominated the end of 2016 — and all of 2017 — is the story of 2018, too.

Go deeper: Axios Sourced videos on Mike's News Shapers conversations yesterday with Sen. Mark Warner (YouTube) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (YouTube).

Between now and New Year's Day, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei and I will bring AM readers our year-end thoughts on the topics that matter most. Sign up here.

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Go deeper

In photos: Life slowly returning to normal as restrictions lift across U.S.

Fireworks near the Statue of Liberty in New York City marking the end of New York State's pandemic restrictions in New York State and honoring frontline workers. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

New Yorkers and Californians celebrated most COVID-19 restrictions lifting on Tuesday, as the two states became the latest to move toward fully reopening their economies.

The big picture: The pandemic has now claimed over 600,000 lives in the U.S., but vaccines have helped drive down the seven-day average to roughly 14,000 new cases and fewer than 400 deaths per day, helping most states to ease restrictions.

2 hours ago - World

China's government issues warning after sending 28 planes over Taiwan

A J-11B fighter aircraft from China's air force flying over the Dafangshen airport in Changchun, China. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

China's government issued a warning to "foreign forces" after Taiwan reported a record 28 Chinese military planes flew over the self-governed island's airspace Tuesday, per Reuters.

Why it matters: The warning and deployment of aircraft including fighter jets and bombers comes after G7 leaders issued a statement Sunday urging the Chinese government to respect human rights and calling on peace and "stability across the Taiwan Strait."

Southern Baptists reject push from right to elect Ed Litton as president

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) rejected a push from the right in a divisive vote on Tuesday, electing a president who has prioritized racial reconciliation and approving a measure that rejects any view of racism as "anything other than sin," AP reports.

Why it matters: Ed Litton, as the new SBC president, will have the power to determine committee appointments, which can set the tone for the country's largest Protestant denomination. The SBC is comprised of 14 million members.