WASHINGTON – House Intelligence Committee Republicans released a redacted version of their final report from a year-long probe of Russia’s “multifaceted” influence operation, generally clearing President Donald Trump and his associates of wrongdoing while accusing the intelligence community and the FBI of failures in how they assessed and responded to the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.
The report charges the intelligence community with “significant intelligence tradecraft failings,” suggesting, without saying explicitly, that Russia’s main goal was to sow discord in the United States and not to help Trump win the election. It says investigators found “no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government,” even as it details contacts between campaign officials and Russians or Russian intermediaries.
Though the report – and a rebuttal from Democrats – offers little in the way of new information, the dueling documents give each side of the aisle ammunition to support its long-held arguments about how and why Russia interfered in the 2016 election. They come at a moment when the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller III, who has already secured guilty pleas from a number of Trump associates, has largely overtaken the probes in Congress. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also pursuing its own investigation.
Trump seized on the House report to call for an end to the probe by Mueller, who is seeking an interview with the president.
“Just Out: House Intelligence Committee Report released. ‘No evidence’ that the Trump Campaign ‘colluded, coordinated or conspired with Russia,’ ” the president wrote on Twitter. “Clinton Campaign paid for Opposition Research obtained from Russia- Wow! A total Witch Hunt! MUST END NOW!”
The House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe took on the character of a boxing ring over the past year, as Republicans and Democrats repeatedly came to blows over whether GOP leaders were trying to end the investigation in order to paint the president in the most flattering light. The committee is led by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., one of Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress and a former adviser to his transition team. Nunes was forced to step down from involvement in large portions of the investigation while he was under an ethics probe that eventually cleared him of wrongdoing.
Committee Democrats quickly charged Friday that their Republican colleagues had rushed to end their work prematurely in a “a systematic effort to muddy the waters and to deflect attention away from the President.”
Though Republicans said they believed that the public would now have access to the information that led them to conclude there was no evidence of Trump-Kremlin coordination, they also said they were prevented from revealing everything they wanted to because of intelligence community (IC) redactions.
“When we started this investigation, we set out to give the American people the answers to the questions they’ve been asking and we promised to be as transparent as possible in our final report,” Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said in a statement. “I don’t believe the information we’re releasing today meets that standard, which is why my team and I will continue to challenge the IC’s many unnecessary redactions with the hopes of releasing more of the report in the coming months.”
Trump’s opponents, meanwhile, warned he should not conclude that he and his campaign are out of the woods until Mueller finishes his work.
“A highly partisan, incomplete, and deeply flawed report by a broken House Committee means nothing,” former CIA director John Brennan wrote on Twitter. “The Special Counsel’s work is being carried out by professional investigators-not political staffers. SC’s findings will be comprehensive & authoritative. Stay tuned, Mr. Trump….”
The Democrats released nearly 100 pages of their own findings, asserting that Russian intelligence “used intermediaries and cutouts to probe, establish contact, and possibly glean valuable information from a diverse set of actors associated with President Trump and his campaign,” though more work needed to be done to determine whether and to what extent Trump staffers were aware of or helped that effort.
They often cited the same facts as their Republican colleagues – though they drew opposite conclusions.
“One year into the Russia investigation, the Minority has obtained a body of classified and unclassified evidence pointing to an unprecedented effort by the Russian government – consistent with Russian intelligence tradecraft – to gain entrée to and influence with individuals associated with the Trump campaign, including the candidate himself,” the Democrats wrote.
The Republican report makes an extensive case that allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin are unfounded. It devotes an entire chapter to the campaign’s alleged links with Russia, and attempts to knock down many of the most damaging claims against the campaign or minimize the significance of well-established interactions.
For instance, the report says a meeting that the candidate’s son Donald Trump Jr. organized with a Russian lawyer and other key campaign advisers in June 2016 showed that he was “open to discussing derogatory information” about Democrat Hillary Clinton, including material potentially provided by the Russian government.
But the report concludes that there is no evidence any such material was provided and that a music promoter testified that he made up the claim about having damaging Clinton information to get the meeting.
Trump has always said that at the time, he was not aware of the June 2016 meeting. In their report, the Democrats reveal that Aras Agalarov, the Moscow developer who helped organize the meeting, sent Trump an “expensive painting” as a birthday gift on June 10, the day after the meeting. Trump’s birthday is June 14.
The Republican report adds that the Russians found “willing interlocutors” in Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, two previously unknown aides named to the campaign because Trump had trouble recruiting from the Republican national security establishment. But the report asserts that the two were “peripheral figures” and neither was “in a position to influence Trump or his campaign.”
The report also says there is no evidence that Trump confidante Roger Stone or others who publicly suggested advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ releases of hacked emails before the election actually had such knowledge.
However, the Republicans released a previously undisclosed email sent by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn on July 15, 2016, in which he wrote, “There are a number of things happening (and will happen) this election via cyber operations (by both hacktivists, nation states and the DNC).”
The email came after news reports that the DNC had been hacked but before WikiLeaks released those emails publicly, on July 22. Committee Republicans concluded that the email did “not necessarily indicate non-public knowledge.” They acknowledged that Trump associates “went beyond mere praise and established communication with WikiLeaks” during the campaign.
The report says there is no evidence that Trump’s pre-campaign business dealings paved the way for election help from Russia, even though Trump’s financial dealings appear to be under investigation by the special counsel. It also asserts that apparent efforts by the campaign and Russia to set up a “back channel” after the election were, counterintuitively, evidence that there was not earlier collusion.
The report disparages the infamous “dossier” compiled by a former British spy as full of “second and third-hand” information and claims that the file was used to justify putting Trump campaign associates under surveillance – an assertion vehemently disputed by the FBI. And it all but accuses intelligence officials of deliberately leaking damaging information about Trump to the media before and after the election. It devotes little attention to Trump’s often inconstant explanations of events, while accusing then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. of providing inconsistent testimony to the committee about his contacts with the media.
Much of the report’s section on intelligence leaks is redacted, so it is unclear exactly how Republicans reached those conclusions, but the committee does single out reports by The Washington Post, the New York Times, NBC and CNN as among those that raised concerns.
“Continued leaks of classified information have damaged national security and potentially endangered lives,” the report says, followed by several redacted paragraphs.
The Republican report also urges Congress to consider rescinding the Logan Act, the law that prohibits American citizens from undercutting the U.S. government by engaging in unauthorized negotiations with foreign leaders. It is the law that Flynn was suspected of possibly violating in his interactions with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the ambassador, though the report asserts that agents “did not detect any deception during Flynn’s interview.”
The Democrats’ rebuttal, meanwhile, excoriates “a majority” of the GOP report’s conclusions as “misleading and unsupported by the facts and the investigative record.”
The GOP’s findings, Democrats charge, “have been crafted to advance a political narrative that exonerates the President, downplays Russia’s preference and support for then-candidate Trump, explains away repeated contacts by Trump associates with Russia-aligned actors, and seeks to shift suspicion towards President Trump’s political opponents and the prior administration.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the GOP document demonstrates “the Majority’s fundamentally flawed approach to the investigation and the superficial and political nature of its conclusions.” He said Democrats are still receiving documents from people who said they were “waiting to be asked” for the materials, and said he hoped that what they could not get, Mueller would ultimately subpoena.
Committee Democrats said they intended to continue their own work, exploring, among other things, financial dealings and efforts by Trump to interfere with the special counsel investigation.
“Congress has an obligation to find out the truth and inform the American people,” the Democrats said in their report. “. . . To the best of our ability, we will continue to do so, until such time as the full Congress once again lives up to its oversight responsibilities.”
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