Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have concluded their year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Their key finding: Neither President Donald Trump nor anyone involved in his campaign colluded with Russia.
“We’ve found no evidence of collusion,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), the leader of the committee’s investigation, told reporters on Monday, adding that there was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings,” but nothing that amounted to a coordinated and deliberate effort to work with Russians to win the White House.
“[O]nly Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take these series of inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a fiction and turn it into a page-turner spy thriller,” Conaway said.
He also said that while Republicans on the committee agree that Russia did interfere in the 2016 presidential election, they “disagree with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump.”
That directly contradicts the US intelligence community’s assessment from January 2017, which clearly states that Russia wanted Trump to win. It also contradicts special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for working to help Trump win by sowing divisions via the internet.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the news — in all caps, no less — claiming the committee concluded there was no collusion or coordination between his campaign and Russia. (Of course, that conclusion just came from Republicans on the committee and is not necessarily the judgment of committee Democrats.)
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.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
None of this is likely to satisfy Democrats on the committee, who have consistently argued that Republicans had no real intention of finding out the truth. For example, Democrats claim Republicans didn’t use the full power of the committee to subpoena documents or compel further testimony that key witnesses withheld from investigators.
Committee Democrats also say that its Republicans never interviewed key witnesses including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s associate Rick Gates — all of whom Mueller has indicted in his investigation.
“The premature closing of this investigation represents a betrayal of the American people and public trust,” Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-TX), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told me. “There is no possible way that this finding can be verified given the amount of outstanding subpoenas we have, leaving the Committee and Congress’ investigative and enforcement powers at stake.“
According to CNN, Conaway hadn’t told Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s top Democrat, on Monday that Republicans concluded the investigation. Schiff vowed to focus on possible Trump-Russia ties, however, and go after House Intelligence Committee Republicans for ending the probe: “In the coming weeks and months, new information will continue to be exposed... And each time this new information becomes public, Republicans will be held accountable for abandoning a critical investigation of such vital national importance.”
BREAKING: GOP just shut down House Intel investigation, leaving questions unanswered, leads unexplored, countless witnesses uncalled, subpoenas unissued.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 12, 2018
If Russians have leverage over the President, GOP has decided that it would rather not know. The minority's work continues: pic.twitter.com/oOf13n75Vo
That, and today’s surprise announcement, underscores just how dysfunctional and hyperpartisan the committee’s functioning has been throughout the entire process.
Expect even more partisanship
This is the same committee that produced two divergent and high-profile memos earlier this year addressing alleged abuses by federal law enforcement against the Trump campaign.
The “Nunes memo,” drafted by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), close ally of Trump, claimed the FBI illegally surveilled a low-level Trump foreign policy adviser. In response, Schiff, Nunes’s counterpart on the committee, wrote his own memo rebutting Nunes’s account point by point.
The drama surrounding the differing accounts led to a public, partisan fight about whether the FBI is politically biased against Trump.
It’s possible that the Democrats will choose to release their own report, contradicting the GOP’s effort. In other words, expect that yawning partisan gap to widen even further.
Republicans, who will show their 150-page report to Democrats on Tuesday, will likely use their report as fodder for their campaign to protect Trump. In fact, they might even use it to further delegitimize — and demonize — Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion. (Recall: Mueller is the only one who can actually bring criminal charges against the president; the House Intelligence Committee looked into Russia’s interference during the election.)
Democrats, meanwhile, will say there’s more to investigate due to ample evidence of collusion — but that Republicans chose to obstruct the probe instead.
That means there’s really one last hope for a bipartisan effort on the Trump-Russia issue: the Senate Intelligence Committee. A Senate aide confirmed to Vox that the Senate committee will continue to interview witnesses and review documents. The committee’s chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), has yet to announce any intention to conclude the interviews phase.
To date, Burr’s committee has largely worked in a bipartisan fashion to complete its probe. But it’s unclear if that bonhomie will continue after the GOP report is made public.
In effect, Conaway’s announcement threatens to make the already politically charged probe even more so — which could lead to a further breakdown in congressional decorum.