House panel concludes Russia probe, finding no coordination with Trump campaign
House Intelligence Committee Republicans closed their investigation of Russian election interference Monday, declaring they found no evidence that President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign cooperated with the Kremlin, a finding Trump quickly celebrated — but which Democrats called premature and even misleading.
Hours after the revelation, Trump triumphantly claim vindication on Twitter: “THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION OR COORDINATION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA TO INFLUENCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION,” Trump wrote.
Story Continued Below
The House Republicans also said that a 150-page report they prepared — without consulting their Democratic colleagues — contradicts the U.S. intelligence community’s firm conclusion that the goal of the Russian government effort was to boost Trump’s campaign.
“We don’t think that’s supported by the underlying data,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), the Republican leading the probe, in a phone interview.
Conaway said an exhaustive review — “almost a man-year’s worth of work” — of the intelligence agencies’ findings suggests the Russian goal was to sow confusion and discord, not to help Trump. He added that a second report on that specific issue would be forthcoming.
Trump is likely to welcome that finding as well: He resents suggestions that Russian meddling, which he has yet to fully acknowledge in public, might undermine the legitimacy of his election. And he has repeatedly claimed that the Kremlin would have no reason to root for his victory.
Democrats said Monday that the House GOP’s conclusion adds new urgency to the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. But the Republican conclusion could provide Trump with more ammunition to attack Mueller’s probe, which the president has called a “witch hunt.”
Mueller’s last set of indictments, filed last month against 13 Russian nationals accused of manipulating U.S. social media and staging political rallies during the 2016 campaign, asserted that the Russians sought not only to disparage Hillary Clinton but to assist Trump. The Russians worked for an Internet “troll factory” funded by a well-known ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democrats erupted in anger after they were blindsided by a summary report released by committee Republicans. They said it confirmed their longstanding view — bolstered by a recent secret Republican memo alleging anti-Trump bias on the part of Justice Department and FBI officials — that House Republicans were more interested in covering for the president than in an exhaustive public account of Russia’s political meddling.
“By ending its oversight role in the only authorized investigation in the House, the Majority has placed the interests of protecting the president over protecting the country, and history will judge its actions harshly,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which has operated in a far more bipartisan fashion than its House counterpart, is still conducting its own investigation of Russian election interference. So is the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has been riven by partisan disputes.
House Republicans say they want to move past the divisive subject of collusion and focus their efforts on blocking Russian interference in future elections.
“After more than a year investigating Russia’s actions in the 2016 election, we are well into the primary season for the 2018 elections and experts are warning that we need to safe guard against further interference,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan. “That’s what this next phase is about and we hope Democrats will join us in seeing this through.”
The committee interviewed its final witness in the probe, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, last week. But the 150-page report must still go through a classification review by the intelligence agencies. It has been in the works for weeks, a process committee Republicans did not disclose to their Democratic counterparts or to the media.
The GOP report finds that Russians intended to “sow discord,” faulted a “lackluster” effort by the Obama administration to combat Russian cyber activities, and suggested that intelligence officials may have had improper contacts with the media.
Schiff and the panel’s other Democrats charged that Republicans seemed to rush the probe to a conclusion before the committee had developed a complete picture of how Russia intervened in the 2016 vote.
The committee has not interviewed several key Trump associates who have either been indicted or pleaded guilty in the course of Mueller’s probe. They include former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.