A Senate panel’s secret investigation into charges of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election is already making progress, said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins said Tuesday the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence probe will be thorough and non-partisan.

“We are deep into that investigation,” Collins said while speaking to a group from Mainers for Accountable Leadership in a session broadcast on Facebook.

Both of Maine’s senators, Collins and independent Angus King, are among the 15 members of the panel. Each has said they want to get to the bottom of the allegations made by intelligence officials and others that Russia meddled in the election.

Collins said that she doesn’t share President Donald Trump’s benign view of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a man she called “an authoritarian thug” who is “not an individual who is our friend.”

But she gave no hint of what the full-time staff members who are doing the legwork for the committee are finding as they gather information about the charges. Collins said, though, that the committee and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were briefed on developments last Friday.

She said the committee has requested any relevant documents from U.S. agencies and from both the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns. It has also instructed them “to preserve all documents, emails, text messages that could have any relevance to this investigation.”

Collins said there’s no need to have an independent probe into the issue because the Senate panel has got it in hand. She said it is independent and bipartisan, plus it has experienced staff members who are already cleared to see the relevant classified information.

Putting the investigation in the hands of others, she said, would merely delay the work.

“I think you can have confidence in us,” Collins said. “We want to get to the bottom of this as much as anyone.”

She said that if the Russians sought to influence the American election, that would be “a serious matter.”

Collins said she expects a public report at the end of the investigation.

King promised earlier this month the probe, which is likely to take a few months and may include public hearings, won’t be a whitewash. “I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” King said.

Collins says volume of calls overwhelming staff

 PORTLAND (AP) — A Republican senator known for speaking out against President Donald Trump says her office has been flooded with phone calls to the point where it’s difficult to serve constituents.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine visited with progressive group Mainers For Accountable Leadership on Tuesday in a livestreamed meeting. Toward the end of the meeting, Collins mentioned that her offices recently fielded thousands of calls on a variety of issues and it was difficult for her staff to keep up with the volume.

Collins mentioned she was worried that constituents having trouble accessing Social Security or veterans’ benefits were having trouble getting through to her amid all the calls.

Collins is also scheduled to make an appearance at a University of New England facility in Portland on Tuesday afternoon.

Sen. Susan Collins talks with members of Mainers for Accountable Leadership Tuesday in a video posted by the group on Facebook.

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