by Byron York · March 12, 2018
The House Intelligence Committee has released findings from its upcoming report on the Trump-Russia affair — and its main conclusion is that it has discovered no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” the committee said in a one-page summary of its findings released Monday afternoon.
In addition, the committee took issue with the Intelligence Community assessment of Russian motivations in the 2016 election. The committee agrees with the assessment that the Russians did, in fact, try to interfere — the findings cite “Russian cyberattacks on U.S. political institutions in 2015-2016 and their use of social media to sow discord.” But the committee disagrees with the Intelligence Community judgment that Russian leader Vladimir Putin specifically tried to help Donald Trump win the election.
The committee’s findings say investigators came to “concurrence with the Intelligence Community Assessment’s judgments, except with respect to Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump.”
On the question of collusion, Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, who has formally run the committee’s probe, told reporters Monday that, “We found no evidence of collusion. We found perhaps bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings.”
“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,” Conaway continued. “But we’re not dealing with fiction, we’re dealing with facts. And we found no evidence of any collusion, of anything that people were actually doing, other than taking a meeting they shouldn’t have taken or inadvertently being in the same building.”
The mentions of “taking a meeting” were clear references to the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign officials talked to a group of Russians who promised, but did not deliver, damaging information on Hillary Clinton. “To be pretty blunt, that meeting should not have taken place,” Conway said.
The collusion question has been the most basic, and the most contentious, of the entire Trump-Russia investigation. After this or that revelation — the emergence of the Trump dossier, the June 9 meeting, the plea bargain of George Papadopoulos, the activities of Carter Page, the analysis of Facebook ads — partisans on both sides claimed that collusion had been either proved or not.
The House committee findings are still partisan — they were released under the leadership of the committee’s controversial chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, are the work of Republicans on the committee, and are sure to be disputed by Democrats, who will come up with their own version of events. But they are the first official report ruling out collusion in the 2016 campaign.
On the question of Putin’s motivation, Conaway said Republican investigators viewed the same intelligence that the Intelligence Community did in making its assessment. But they differed with the IC, not on the fact that Russia acted, but on Vladimir Putin’s purposes.
“It was clear that he was sowing discord in our elections,” Conaway said, “pitting one American against another, tried to influence it through social media and other things. But we couldn’t establish the same conclusion that the CIA did that they specifically wanted to help Trump.”
Republicans released the findings in bullet-point form. They were condensed from a larger report that will not be made public for several weeks.
Nunes, R-Calif., thanked Conaway and other top lawmakers for leading the investigation.
“After more than a year, the committee has finished its Russia investigation and will now work on completing our report. I’d like to thank Congressmen Trey Gowdy, Tom Rooney, and especially Mike Conaway for the excellent job they’ve done leading this investigation,” Nunes said in a statement. “I’d also like to recognize the hard work undertaken by our other committee members as well as our staff. Once the committee’s final report is issued, we hope our findings and recommendations will be useful for improving security and integrity for the 2018 midterm elections.”
The committee investigation began on Jan. 25, 2017, just five days into the Trump administration, with a joint statement from Nunes and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff pledging to investigate “counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.”
In the time since, any bipartisan spirit splintered as Nunes focused on the Obama administration’s efforts to investigate the Trump campaign, focusing especially on the Trump dossier. Nunes’ investigation, for example, is the reason the public knows that the dossier was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and that the FBI and Justice Department used its unverified allegations to receive a court warrant to eavesdrop on Carter Page.
But the question of collusion remained a key issue for the committee, as well as for the other two big Trump-Russia investigations, by the Senate Intelligence Committee and special counsel Robert Mueller. And Republicans and Democrats have differed sharply on whether collusion did or did not take place.
“There is already, in my view, ample evidence in the public domain on the issue of collusion if you’re willing to see it,” Schiff told reporters last month. “If you want to blind yourself, then you can look the other way.”
It is not clear how Democrats will respond, either with a formal report or series of findings. Republicans said the full report will be provided to Democrats on Tuesday and will be released to the public after it has been fully vetted for classified information.
Washington Examiner · by Byron York · March 12, 2018