House Intelligence panel cites missteps by both parties
Democrats didn’t sign off on report they called ‘misleading’
House Republicans chided both the Trump and Clinton campaigns for poor judgment over their contacts with Russia, even as they dismissed the notion of collusion with Moscow in concluding an investigation riven by bitter partisanship.
While President Donald Trump’s campaign didn’t work directly with Moscow, some of his senior advisers erred by meeting in 2016 with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information on Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to a 243-page report issued Friday by the GOP majority on the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats rejected the report as misleading and refused to sign it.
The report faulted Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee for obscuring their roles in paying for opposition research on Trump from Russian sources via former British spy Christopher Steele.
“The investigation did find poor judgment and ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns,” it said. “For example, the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer who falsely purported to have damaging information on the Clinton campaign demonstrated poor judgment.”
Trump quickly embraced the report by his allies in the GOP to bolster his assertion that there’s no evidence of wrongdoing.
On Twitter Friday night, he wrote: "As I have been saying all along, it is all a big Hoax by the Democrats based on payments and lies." Trump added that "there never should been" a special counsel appointed.
“It was a great report,” the president told reporters at the White House earlier on Friday. “No collusion, which I knew anyway, no coordination, no nothing. It’s a witch hunt. That’s all it is,” he added. “What we should really do is get on with our lives.”
Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus and a close ally of the president, agreed, saying the report showed that it’s “time for the special counsel investigation to end.”
But Republican Representative Michael Conaway of Texas, who led the panel’s Russia investigation, said the report shouldn’t be used to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian probe.
“Mueller’s got a broader area of jurisdiction, he’s looking at a lot of other things," Conaway said. “I think Mr. Mueller should finish his investigation on time and on his own schedule."
‘Hostile Foreign Power’
Democrats released their own report, saying the GOP version is incomplete and designed to protect the president. The Intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, said Republicans ignored evidence of collusion even when it was “in plain sight.” Schiff cited “secret meetings” between numerous Trump associates and people linked to the Russian government.
“There is no denying the abundant evidence that the Trump campaign sought, and was eager to accept, the assistance of a hostile foreign power bent on interfering in our election,” Schiff said. “It is also uncontroverted that the Russians assisted the Trump campaign through a surreptitious social media campaign, an overt paid media effort, an elaborate hacking and dumping operation targeting the DNC and Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, and potentially through additional means still under investigation.”
The GOP report concludes that while it was poor judgment on the part of Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to meet with Russians including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York, she didn’t have dirt on Clinton that Trump Jr. had been promised in emails setting up the meeting.
The committee also detailed involvement by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, now at the center of a criminal investigation in New York, in the proposed development of a Trump Tower for Moscow. It concluded that talk about involvement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials in the project was “mere puffery” and that Cohen and his business partner Felix Sater were looking to use politics to help advance the deal, rather than the deal affecting the campaign.
“The committee determined that the Trump Tower Moscow project did not progress beyond an early developmental phase, and that this potential licensing deal was not related to the Trump campaign," the report said.
The report concluded there was no evidence Trump associates were involved in hacking and distributing Clinton campaign emails via WikiLeaks, though it found “numerous ill-advised contacts with WikiLeaks.”
Donald Trump Jr. exchanged a series of messages on Twitter with WikiLeaks from Sept. 20 to Oct. 3 2016. The report said WikiLeaks sent a direct message to the Trump Jr. to inform him of an anti-Trump website that was about to launch. WikiLeaks “guessed the password” and sent it to Trump Jr. and asked for comments, it said, adding that the younger Trump responded that he would ask around about the site and later logged into it.
The report concluded that WikiLeaks acted as a intermediary for Russian intelligence and that Russia was responsible for the theft of the Clinton emails, something about which Trump has previously raised doubts.
The Republican lawmakers found that Manafort, who has since been indicted on criminal charges, should never have been on Trump’s campaign if the allegations against him are true, but noted the criminal charges he’s facing don’t relate to his campaign role or to collusion. The report found no evidence Manafort knew about a change in the Republican Party platform that softened language calling for the supply of arms to anti-Russia fighters in Ukraine.
Democrats wrote in their report that the Republican document “downplays Russia’s preference and support for then-candidate Trump, explains away repeated contacts by Trump associates with Russia-aligned actors, and seeks to shift suspicion towards President Trump’s political opponents and the prior administration.”
The minority members describe as “unprecedented” the effort by the Russian government to influence members of the Trump campaign, and the “willingness by Trump campaign officials to accept those overtures.”
The Trump Tower meeting, they said, is evidence that “Trump campaign officials themselves wished to receive a thing of value from a foreign government, namely damaging information on their opponent.”
They also said “the systematic release and weaponization of stolen emails over the course of the 2016 campaign was designed to inflict maximum harm on one candidate — Hillary Clinton — and boost her opponent, Donald Trump.”
Schiff said that while Democrats on the committee compiled their views in response to the majority report, they will continue their work on the Russia investigation and will await the results of Mueller’s separate probe.