In One-Sided Report, House Intelligence Committee Finds No Trump-Russia Collusion
The House Intelligence Committee's report is being touted as vindication by the Trump Administration and its supporters. It's not.
President Trump and his Republican supporters are touting a report released by the House Intelligence Committee that purports to find no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or people connected to Russia:
WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee declared in a 250-page report on Friday that their yearlong investigation uncovered no evidence that the Trump campaign had aided Russia’s election meddling, only ill-advised contacts between campaign aides and Russian officials or their intermediaries.
The Republicans took aim at what they called the misjudgments of Democrats and others even as they sought to play down the seriousness of mistakes by or suspicions about Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. They faulted aides to Hillary Clinton for secretly paying for opposition research that included information from Russian sources, and castigated federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies for failing to counter Russian interference as well as for purported investigative abuses and allegedly damaging national security leaks.
In a nearly 100-page dissenting document, Democrats on the Intelligence Committee described the Republicans’ report as little more than a whitewash. The eagerness of Trump campaign aides to accept offers of Russian assistance, they said, suggests “a consciousness of wrongfulness, if not illegality.” The Democrats complained that the committee failed to pursue obvious leads, interview important witnesses or investigate crucial lines of inquiry.
The opposing conclusions closed a tumultuous chapter for a congressional committee that is charged with oversight of American spy agencies, but fractured into warring camps whose primary mission often seemed to be advancing their own political agendas. The results diminished hopes that Congress, which has mounted two similar investigations, is likely to get to the bottom of Russia’s attempts to influence the election.
In the charged political climate that has engulfed Washington, Mr. Trump and his allies immediately seized on the Republicans’ report — the first by a government body — as a useful political tool against continuing investigations, including that of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The president extolled the Republicans’ conclusions on Twitter, saying the entire investigative effort, involving interviews with dozens of witnesses and the review of hundreds of pages of documents, had been nothing but “a total Witch Hunt!”
“MUST END NOW!” he added. He later told reporters in the Oval Office he was “honored” by the report.
While the bulk of the Republican document covered familiar ground, it contained intriguing new details about interactions between Russian officials or intermediaries and Trump associates, including Michael T. Flynn, who served briefly as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. It disclosed, for example, that before traveling to Moscow in December 2015, Mr. Flynn and his son met privately with Sergey I. Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, at his Washington residence. Mr. Flynn’s son later emailed the Russian Embassy that the meeting had been “very productive.”
In a newly disclosed June 2016 email, Mr. Flynn also seemed to give a Trump campaign aide a preview of the release of stolen emails that would prove highly damaging to the Clinton campaign. “There are a number of things happening (and will happen) this election via cyber operations (by both hacktivists, nation states and the DNC),” he wrote to an unnamed communications adviser.
Mr. Flynn sent that email after disclosures that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by Russian operatives but before WikiLeaks began releasing the stolen emails.
But the committee never interviewed Mr. Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador during the transition and is now cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s team. For the most part, the Republicans cast communications between Trump associates and Russian officials or intermediaries as simply misguided.
“While the committee found that several of the contacts between Trump associates and Russians — or their proxies, including WikiLeaks — were ill advised, the committee did not determine that Trump or anyone associated with him assisted Russia’s active-measures campaign,” the Republicans wrote.
In one finding — mocked by the Democrats as particularly convoluted — the Republicans asserted that “possible Russian efforts to set up a ‘back channel’ with Trump associates after the election” indicated campaign officials did not collude with Russians because otherwise a back channel would have already existed.
The Republicans criticized the Obama administration for a “slow and inconsistent” response to Russia’s covert interference. They faulted the F.B.I. for failing to properly notify victims of Russian hacking and for obtaining a warrant to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. They also said that American officials should have warned the Trump campaign about Mr. Page’s ties to Russia, even though Mr. Page was under investigation by the F.B.I. at the time and such a disclosure would have been highly unusual.
Even the Republicans, however, raised questions about Mr. Page’s Russia trip in July 2016. Although Mr. Page did not represent the campaign on that trip, the lawmakers said, “the committee is concerned about his seemingly incomplete accounts of his activity in Moscow.”
The Republicans accused the intelligence agencies of failing to use “proper analytic tradecraft” as they crafted a key conclusion of a January 2017 assessment of the Russian campaign. In the portion in question, intelligence officials had concluded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia wanted to harm Mrs. Clinton and aid Mr. Trump. The Republican report does not explicitly contest that conclusion but implies that the Russians’ primary intention was to sow discord, not to help Mr. Trump.
And they admonished Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee for hiring Fusion GPS, a research firm, to investigate ties between Trump associates and Russia. The firm in turn hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy, who produced a salacious dossier outlining a conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians based, in part, on Russian sources.
“They were very forceful in saying that the Clinton campaign actually did contribute to Russia, so maybe somebody ought to look at that,” Mr. Trump said at the White House, underscoring the political opportunity the report handed him. “But what we really should do is get on with our lives.”
Here are Trump’s tweets in response to the report:
Just Out: House Intelligence Committee Report released. “No evidence” that the Trump Campaign “colluded, coordinated or conspired with Russia.” Clinton Campaign paid for Opposition Research obtained from Russia- Wow! A total Witch Hunt! MUST END NOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 27, 2018
House Intelligence Committee rules that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump Campaign and Russia. As I have been saying all along, it is all a big Hoax by the Democrats based on payments and lies. There should never have been a Special Counsel appointed. Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2018
Pushing back against the Republican talking points, The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips notes that the majority report contradicts the well-established conclusions of eleven separate intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference in the election and her colleague Philip Bump argues that it is at best premature to say that Trump and his campaign have been vindicated, and as he notes the majority reports even admits this:
The point of the investigations into possible collusion is to see if that evidence exists. At the beginning of the investigation it doesn’t, just as criminal investigations don’t result in immediate arrests of suspects — or immediate, sweeping determinations of innocence.
The House report acknowledged that it was offering its absolution based only on what it knows in the moment.
“We acknowledge that Investigations by other committees, the Special Counsel, the media, or interest groups will continue and may find facts that were not readily accessible to the Committee or outside the scope of our investigation,” it reads. But instead of seeking out more information or continuing to interview witnesses (like campaign adviser George Papadopoulos or deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, neither of whom were interviewed) the committee went ahead and concluded its investigation. Its chairman is longtime Trump ally (and transition team member) Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — the person who pushed for the release of a disputed memo about the Carter Page FISA warrant earlier this year.
If and when more information relevant to the investigation emerges — as it did on Friday with the Times report — the prematurity of the committee’s conclusion will become only more apparent.
From the start, the House Committee’s investigation has been riddled with accusations of partisanship and clear signs that the long-standing tradition whereby the committee was supposed to be working on bipartisan basis had completely collapsed. This began early in the process when the Committee’s Chairman, California Republican Devin Nunes, effectively went to war against the Federal Bureau of Investigation and all of the nation’s other intelligence agencies in denying 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 acted to steer it in a direction favorable to the White House, and sought 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 him at least temporarily stepping aside from leading the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation although it quickly became apparent that 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 best evidence of the extent to which the committee’s investigation had become infested with partisan bias came 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 pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor communications between former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and Russian officials. In early February, over the strong objections of all of the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Trump 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.
Very quickly, though, it became 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. Indeed, 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 provided by an entirely different Trump campaign associate during a meeting with an Australian government official who reported his conversation to his nation’s intelligence authorities, which then passed the matter on to its contacts at the Bureau. 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, 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 February, 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.
Taking this history into account, the conclusions reached by the majority in its report are hardly surprising, of course. Back in March, over the objections of Democratic members of the committee who argued that the investigation was far from complete and had deliberately avoided looking into several issues connected with Russian interference in the election, the committee closed the investigation and announced that it had found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Shortly after this announcement was made, though, it became clear that the main reason that the committee didn’t find any evidence of collusion is because Republicans on the committee had manipulated the investigation to ensure that they weren’t really looking for any such evidence and, as Democrats noted after the closing of the investigation and in their dissenting report, simply chose not to call certain witnesses or look at certain evidence that might have provided information about potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russians. Given that, this report is hardly definitive and most certainly does not provide the kind of vindication that Trump and his supporters claim that it does.
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 any conclusion on that or any other issue.
Here’s the majority report:
And here’s the report filed by Committee Democrats: