POLITICS
04/27/2018 11:58 am ET Updated Apr 27, 2018

GOP-Led House Panel Ends Its Russia Probe By Claiming To Clear Trump

The document, which Democrats say is politically tainted, also repeatedly criticizes Hillary Clinton.
The House intelligence committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), claimed to have stepped back from the investigation
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
The House intelligence committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), claimed to have stepped back from the investigation. Democrats said he continued to run interference.

WASHINGTON ― The Republican-controlled House intelligence committee released its final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election Friday morning, arguing it found no evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow, and prompting immediate recriminations from Democrats.

Citing interviews, reviews of documents and other investigative steps, the 253-page document states that “the Committee did not find any evidence of collusion, conspiracy, or coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

“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 report says.

The report’s authors attempt to equate the actions of the Trump and Clinton campaigns in terms of helping the Russian meddling, faulting both for “poor judgment and ill-considered actions.” When, for instance, they criticize Trump campaign links to WikiLeaks and a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians who claimed to have damaging information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, they try to balance that out with criticism of Clinton associates who paid former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Trump-Russia links, noting that Steele appears to have communicated with Russian government sources.

The document also bashes Obama administration officials for failing to alert the Trump campaign to counterintelligence investigations during election season, particularly of pro-Russia Trump adviser Carter Page.

And the report attempts to rebut the widespread view that Trump and his associates were deliberately going easy on Russia. It contends that a Trump-driven change in the Republican Party platform ― to remove an endorsement of arming Ukraine in its yearslong conflict with Russian-backed separatists ― actually led to a stronger U.S. policy on the crisis. As for efforts to create a secret channel between Moscow and the Trump team after the election, it says they don’t show secret dealings, but instead prove the two sides did not have significant contact before Trump’s victory.

Additionally, the report calls for Congress to consider repealing the Logan Act, a law barring unauthorized contact between Americans and foreign governments in disputes with the U.S. that Trump critics say the president’s associates may have violated.

Begun in a bipartisan fashion after the U.S. intelligence community publicly accused Russia of intervening in the election to help Trump, the House intelligence committee’s investigation devolved into mudslinging as the panel’s chairmain, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), sought to shift its focus to alleged Obama administration misdeeds. Nunes grew close to the White House and continued to drive important decisions about how the panel conducted its work even after he publicly committed to taking a step back.

Trump praised the document on Twitter soon after it was released, highlighting the Clinton mention and lobbing an attack at other ongoing investigations of potential collusion with Russia. Two Senate committees are still looking into the issue, as is special counsel Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

Democrats slammed the report. The House intelligence committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), issued a statement calling its findings “superficial and political.” He criticized how the Republican line changed over time ― citing the way GOP members first disputed the intelligence community’s claim that Moscow wanted to help Trump and hurt Clinton, and then avoided making that case in their final product.

“Throughout the investigation, Committee Republicans chose not to seriously investigate — or even see, when in plain sight — evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, instead adopting the role of defense counsel for key investigation witnesses,” Schiff said. He cited pro-Trump postings by Russian-run social media accounts and the Russian-linked released of hacked materials from Democrats.

Republicans did not allow the panel to interview all witnesses it sought to before formally ending the probe last month, he added.

Schiff said the Democratic minority on the panel is continuing to investigate and received new materials from a witness just this week. Democrats also issued their own 98-page document rebutting several pro-Trump arguments in the majority-controlled report. They noted defects like its downplaying of the role of George Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s inquiry.

The Republican report says Papadopoulos “made minor contributions” and “often acted on his own without the official backing of the Trump campaign.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who previously worked on the Trump campaign, testified that he “pushed back pretty sharply” when Papadopoulos said he could engage with Russia on behalf of the campaign, the report adds.

Some material in the majority report sheds new light on how Trump associates say they were assessing the Russian interference as it became clearer in 2016. It says the decision to use material from WikiLeaks was the subject of debate within the campaign. “I remember making a decision that it [a trove of hacked emails] was in the public domain, and it would be silly not to use it,” Sessions told the House panel. “So I used it, although I could understand somebody else not wanting to.”

And it addresses what has become one of the president’s personal fixations: the charge, made in Steele’s dossier, that he paid Russian prostitutes during a Moscow trip in 2013. “The Committee found no evidence to support these allegations,” the report says.

Much of the report is redacted, including, notably, the number of Trump associates that law enforcement began investigating during the election. In a statement after the release, Nunes expressed the GOP’s unhappiness about those cuts ― which were likely demanded by national security officials ― and said the panel will issue “a less redacted version in the near future.”

This story has been updated with additional details about report and a Democratic rebuttal.

CONVERSATIONS