Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released their hotly contested report Friday on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, concluding there was no conspiracy or collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
The report found what it called “poor judgment and ill-considered actions” by both the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns, however.
Trump was quick to claim vindication even as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues his criminal investigation of whether any of Trump’s current or former aides assisted the Russian operation, which involved leaks of hacked emails, fake social media posts and other tactics.
Speaking beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, Trump again denounced the Mueller probe as “a witch hunt” and praised the Republican report as “strong, powerful [and] conclusive.”
Democrats countered that the report was partisan and incomplete and vowed to continue their own inquiry.
The Republican report said investigators “found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government.” It also said both the Trump and Clinton campaigns had exercised poor judgment considering Russia’s role.
It criticized a meeting at Trump Tower in New York in June 2016 between a Kremlin-linked lawyer and three of Trump’s top aides — his son Donald Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — after Trump Jr. had been told a Russian government lawyer had incriminating information on Clinton.
The report also slammed Clinton’s team for secretly paying “for opposition research on Trump obtained from Russian sources.” A former British intelligence officer produced a series of memos on Trump, based on his sources inside Russia, in a dossier later leaked to the media.
House Democrats have pushed their own investigation, reviewing intelligence reports and sending requests to about a dozen witnesses. They recently met with Christopher Wylie, a former employee at the data firm Cambridge Analytica who helped expose the misuse of Facebook data to help the Trump campaign.
“Someone has got to do the investigation we were charged with doing,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), ranking Democrat on the committee, said Friday.
In a sign of the political battle on the committee, Schiff criticized the chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare). Nunes decided “to investigate not the Russians or the Trump campaign, but to investigate the investigators,” Schiff said.
The breakdown began with the so-called “midnight run” in March 2017 when Nunes went to the White House complex at night to view classified information he later suggested revealed wrongdoing by the Obama administration.
The evidence was far less explosive than Nunes had claimed, and he stepped aside as chairman during a House ethics committee investigation that later cleared him.
Next was an episode nicknamed “London calling,” when Republican staff members traveled to England in an unsuccessful attempt to meet Christopher Steele, the former British spy who researched Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. Democrats considered the unilateral trip out of bounds.
Nunes also probed how Justice Department officials conducted court-approved surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, shortly before the election. Nunes later released a redacted memo that alleged law enforcement had improperly used Steele’s research to obtain the warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Democrats responded by releasing their own redacted memo, saying the surveillance court judges were fully informed before they approved the warrant. The court renewed the 90-day warrant three times, suggesting the FBI continued to gather valuable intelligence.
Former committee staff members, lawmakers and intelligence officers have expressed concern that the tumultuous process has eroded relations between the House committee and intelligence agencies. Like its Senate counterpart, the panel is responsible for oversight of the nation’s intelligence community.
But given the partisan breakdown in the Russia investigation, the flow of information could be reduced.
“If I was told to go down and brief Devin Nunes about an incredible sensitive Russian thing, I would be very, very worried,” said Steve Hall, a former CIA officer who was a liaison to congressional committees in 2012 and 2013.
Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House committee from 2011 to 2015, said he fears the controversies could damage oversight efforts.
“I think the sharp-edged partisanship hurts the committee’s ability to do traditional and important oversight of the intelligence community,” Rogers said. “It just becomes a toxic place.”
Schiff said the committee was still doing its job of overseeing intelligence agencies, saying, “That work has never stopped.”