House Intelligence Committee Ends One-Sided Russia Probe, Claiming No Collusion

Ending an investigation that was flawed and tainted with partisanship from the start, the House Intelligence Committee has abruptly concluded its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In what was a largely one-sided report authored by its Republican members with no input from Democrats and seemingly little regard for the continuing investigations of either the Senate Intelligence Committee and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the House Intelligence Committee has concluded its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election with a report that finds no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign:

Even as the special counsel expands his inquiry and pursues criminal charges against at least four Trump associates, House Intelligence Committee Republicans said on Monday that their investigation had found no evidence of collusion between Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 election.

Representative K. Michael Conaway, the Texas Republican who is leading the investigation, said committee Republicans agreed with the conclusions of American intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered with the election, but they broke with the agencies on one crucial point: that the Russians had favored Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“The bottom line: The Russians did commit active measures against our election in ’16, and we think they will do that in the future,” Mr. Conaway said. But, he added, “We disagree with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump.”

The announcement brought an abrupt end to one of two remaining investigations into the topic on Capitol Hill and quickly provoked sharp objections from committee Democrats, who have warned Republicans not to close the matter before the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is done with his work.

In a statement on Monday evening, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee, lamented the decision, saying that the committee had put partisan politics over fulsome fact-finding and had failed to serve American voters at a key moment in history.

“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,” he said. “And history will judge its actions harshly.”

Mr. Schiff and intelligence officials also disputed the Republican finding that the country’s intelligence agencies had erred.

American intelligence officials concluded in January 2017 that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia personally “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” and pivoted from trying to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton to developing “a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the agencies stood by their work and would review the committee’s findings.

The Republican findings hand Mr. Trump, who has dismissed the whole matter as a “witch hunt,” a convenient talking point even before Mr. Mueller interviews the president and possibly other key witnesses.

It took the president little time to tout the news 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.”

The decision leaves just a single committee on Capitol Hill that is investigating full time an attack on American democracy, in addition to the special counsel.

Mr. Conaway said the committee would turn over a 150-page draft report to Democrats on Tuesday for review and comment. The document includes more than 25 recommendations related to elections and cybersecurity, counterintelligence practices and campaign finance rules. He said the committee was preparing a separate, in-depth analysis of the intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment.

“We found no evidence of collusion. We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings,” Mr. Conaway said during a briefing with reporters on Monday afternoon. “But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, or meetings, whatever, and weave that into a some sort of fictional page-turner spy thriller.”

Mr. Conaway said the panel interviewed more than 70 witnesses, reviewed more than 300,000 pages of documents and sent investigators to seven countries.

But Democrats say that effort has fallen well short of gathering all the evidence. Important witnesses have not been interviewed, and records have not been subpoenaed, including bank documents and certain communications that Democrats say are paramount to understanding the case.

The committee’s final interview took place Thursday with Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign manager.

Several witnesses thought to be central to the investigation never came before the panel, including Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Mr. Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates; Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; and Mr. Trump’s former campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, all of whom are under indictment by the special counsel.

Others, including George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates with links to current and former Trump aides, only recently came to the committee’s attention.

(…)

The investigation comes to a close almost exactly a year after it began. At that time, Democrats and Republicans on the panel agreed on a four-part framework for the investigation and pledged to work “on a bipartisan basis” to “fully investigate all the evidence we collect and follow that evidence wherever it leads.”

But the day-to-day reality of running a closely watched investigation potentially implicating a sitting president left the committee badly frayed. Democrats have accused Republicans of essentially blocking their path to the truth to protect Mr. Trump. Republicans have countered that Democrats on the panel have turned private proceedings into a TV spectacle to earn political points.

The investigation had made little forward progress since December, committee members said. Only three witnesses have been brought in for questioning this year — a drastic reduction in pace compared to earlier months.

Instead, Republicans and Democrats on the committee spent a month locked in an extraordinary dispute over a secret Republican memorandum that accused top F.B.I. and Justice Department officials of abusing their powers to spy on one of Mr. Trump’s former campaign advisers.

Republicans released the document over the objections of the Justice Department and the F.B.I., which warned in a rare public statement that it was dangerously misleading, and many used the document to argue that the entire Russia inquiry had been tainted by anti-Trump bias from the start.

Democrats eventually wrote and released their own countermemo, drawn from the same underlying material, to rebut the Republican document. They are likely to write their own final report, as well, outlining questions that remain unanswered.

In a sign of how badly relations between the two sides have broken down, Republicans on the committee briefed reporters on their initial findings on Monday before notifying their Democratic partners what was coming.

Some Democrats have signaled they would like to reopen the investigation under a Schiff chairmanship if the party wins control of the House in November’s midterm elections.

More from The Washington Post:

House Intelligence Committee Republicans say they have found no evidence that President Trump and his affiliates colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 election or that the Kremlin sought to help him, a conclusion at odds with Democrats’ takeaways from the congressional panel’s year-long probe and the apparent trajectory of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

The findings are part of a 150-page draft report that Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who oversees the committee’s Russia probe, announced on Monday. It will probably be weeks before the document is made public.

“We’ve found no evidence of collusion,” Conaway told reporters Monday. He noted that the worst the panel uncovered was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings” — such as a June 2016 gathering at Trump Tower in New York City between members of the Trump campaign and a ­Russian lawyer. Conaway said that meeting “shouldn’t have happened, no doubt about that.”

“But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a fiction, page-turner spy thriller,” Conaway said. “We’re not dealing in fiction, we’re dealing in facts, and we found no evidence of any collusion.”

House Intelligence Committee Republicans completed the draft report without any input from Democrats, who will be able to see and weigh in on the document starting Tuesday, Conaway said. In a statement Monday night, the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), said the sight-unseen report was a “tragic milestone” and a “capitulation to the executive branch.”

(…)

The committee has been crippled by partisan division for months, as GOP members accused Democrats of trying to malign Trump without adequate evidence and Democrats accused the GOP of trying to undermine Mueller’s investigation.

Schiff argued last month that there was “ample evidence” of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and in recent weeks, Mueller’s probe has been gathering evidence that an early 2017 meeting in Seychelles was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin.

On Monday, Schiff excoriated House Republicans for ending the panel’s probe before Mueller’s team or the other congressional panels looking at Russian interference have finished their work. Schiff predicted that “Republicans will be held accountable for abandoning a critical investigation of such vital national importance” if new information arises from future indictments and other reports.

From the beginning, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election and potential collusion on the part of the Trump campaign or people close to it has been riddled with accusations of partisans and clear signs that the long-standing process of the respective intelligence committees in the House and the Senate working on a bipartisan basis had largely broken down in the House. It began early in the process when the Committee’s Chairman, California Republican Devin Nunes, essentially stood against the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the conclusions of all of the nation’s intelligence agencies and denied that there was any evidence of contact between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials and dismissed the idea that there was any need for investigation by his Committee. Nunes had previously served as a member of Trump’s transition team, of course, and at times it appeared that he was acting more like an errand boy for the White House than the head of one of Congress’s most important committees.

After the investigation began despite Nunes’s initial objections, he seemed to be deliberately acting to steer it in a direction favorable to the White House, and even seeking to undermine the outside investigation then still being conducted by the F.B.I. For example, in late March of last year, Nunes made a big show of revealing to the press reports claiming that the Bureau had been investigating the Trump campaign during the election, relying on information provided to him by the Administration to support the allegation. This, and a series of other actions and omissions on Nunes’s part, eventually led to Nunes at least temporarily stepping aside from leading the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation although it quickly became apparent at Nunes was acting behind the scenes to steer the investigation in a direction that was favorable to the Administration and which avoided going down paths that could prove embarrassing to Trump, the Trump campaign, or the Trump Administration.

The most direct evidence of the extent to which the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation had become infested with partisan bias came, of course, with the controversy that erupted in January and February over the release of information regarding the F.B.I.’s application for a surveillance warrant to monitor communications between former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and Russian officials. In early February, President Trump, over the strong objections of all of the nation’s intelligence agencies,  authorized the release of a memorandum prepared by Nunes that sought to undercut the Bureau’s investigation that had been prepared by Nunes himself even as Committee Republicans blocked the release of a rebuttal memorandum by the committee’s Ranking Member Adam Schiff.

From the start, though, it was clear that the memorandum was far less than it had been made out to be. Contrary to the President’s claim, for example, the memo did not “totally vindicate” him with respect to the Russia investigation, the memo itself barely touched on the premise of that investigation and acknowledged that the Russia investigation had begun three months prior to the first application for a FISA warrant against Page based on information about an entirely different Trump campaign associate. Additionally, it quickly became apparent that the Nunes memo had omitted and represented significant details about the FISA warrant application against Page such as the fact that the FISA Court was in fact advised of the political nature of the funding behind its preparation. For that and a variety of other reasons, it’s clear that the Nunes memo was a complete dud and that it did not have the impact that many conservatives and Trump supporters had claimed it would. When the rebuttal memorandum prepared by Congressman Schiff was finally released at the end of last month, it was apparent that the memorandum that Nunes has prepared was little more than a partisan effort to undermine the Russia investigation that seemed to parallel the similar efforts by President Trump and other members of his Administration.

Suffice it to say, then, that this one-sided report from the House Intelligence Committee is suspect at best and, at worst, tainted from the start by a rather obvious desire to not get to the truth of Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. The report that the committee itself will likely release at some point was apparently prepared with no real input from Committee Democrats and without the committee bothering to even to try to interview or hear testimony from persons such as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort, Manafort’s close associate Rick Gates, Carter Page, or George Papadopoulos. It’s also been apparent from the start that the Republican members of the committee were seemingly more concerned with vindicating Trump, his campaign, and his Administration from any accusations than they were with uncovering the truth.

In any case, this news from the House Committee is hardly surprising given that their investigation had become something of a joke compared to the far more serious and rigorous investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee and, of course, Special Counsel Robert Mueller. As already noted, President Trump wasted little time in touting the news that the investigation had concluded on Twitter, but this is hardly an indication that his troubles are over. To be sure, it’s entirely possible that both the Senate and the Mueller investigations will, in the end, conclude that there was no conscious collusion on the part of Trump’s campaign or people affiliated with it. Even if that turns out to be true, though, it is clear that the investigation the House Committee did here was far too cursory to be able to validly reach and conclusion on that or any other issue.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Intelligence, National Security, Politicians, Russia Investigation, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. drj says:

    To be scrupulously fair, one or two Republican members of the HIC are probably dumb enough to believe that the whole Trump-Russia thing is a witch-hunt orchestrated by the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy ™.

    The rest of them ought to be treated as accessories after the fact.




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  2. James Joyner says:

    It’s noteworthy, too, that the announcement of the findings—which are just the findings of the Republicans, not the Committee as a whole—was made last night on Fox News, not on Capitol Hill.




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  3. Kathy says:

    My thesaurus fails to give “whitewash” as a synonym for “investigation.”




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  4. al-Ameda says:

    I wonder what will happen if and when Mueller ties Trump’s real estate sales and development business operations to the laundering of Russian money?

    Oh wait, I know. Nothing. That is, nothing unless the House or Senate turns Democratic in November.




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  5. Tyrell says:

    According to some sources, Mueller is looking into the “hangar gate” and some other Clinton shenanigans of the campaign.
    “Sanders wins again, but falls further behind”




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