WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Republicans unilaterally decided to end the panel’s fractious investigation into Russia’s campaign influence operations in the 2016 presidential election, setting the stage for the committee to issue two competing final investigation reports.
Even those partisan reports promise disagreements, with Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who took over the investigation after Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-Calif.) recusal, telling Fox that the GOP report would contradict the intelligence community agencies’ assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin favored President Trump in the campaign, while committee member Tom Rooney (R-Pa.) told CNN that “we’ve seen a lot of evidence and propaganda over the last year that shows that the Russians were trying to damage Hillary Clinton.”
“We’ve also seen evidence that is in a classified nature that shows the Russians fully expected her to win and were holding onto some very damaging evidence of her as well until after the election,” Rooney said, adding that the GOP members can find “there was no collusion with Trump’s campaign and the Russians, but the Russians were also trying to infiltrate our election cycle with all the things that have been reported.”
The 150-page Intel Committee Republicans’ draft report, which will be sent to Democrats on the panel Tuesday before a declassification review, reportedly lifts from the Nunes memo in its targets and recommendations, citing “anti-Trump research” in the Steele dossier tied to the Clinton campaign.
Nunes issued a statement thanking Conaway, Rooney and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) for their work on the investigation. “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,” he added.
Conaway said he wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats on the panel “disagree with bringing the interview phase to a close,” telling Fox News, “I’m sure they will have specific folks they wanted to interview.” He also indicated that witnesses who didn’t cooperate with the committee, such as former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, would likely be off the hook instead of facing contempt proceedings.
Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement on behalf of committee Democrats that the two parties should have been able to issue a joint report because “the evidence is clear and overwhelming that the Intelligence Community Assessment was correct.”
“While the majority members of our committee have indicated for some time that they have been under great pressure to end the investigation, it is nonetheless another tragic milestone for this Congress, and represents yet another capitulation to the executive branch. By ending its oversight role in the only authorized investigation in the House, the majority has placed the interests of protecting the president over protecting the country, and history will judge its actions harshly,” Schiff said.
He added that “a whole host of investigative threads, our work is fundamentally incomplete, some issues partially investigated, others, like that involving credible allegations of Russian money laundering, remain barely touched.”
“If the Russians do have leverage over the president of the United States, the majority has simply decided it would rather not know,” he said. “On the final aspect of our work — setting out the prescriptions for protecting the country going forward — we will endeavor to continue our work, with or without the active participation of the majority.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is still conducting its Russia investigation, with Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice-Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) cooperatively moving witnesses through the committee. Committee member Angus King (I-Maine) said earlier this month that the Senate probe is “worlds apart in terms of the way we have approached this” as compared to the House investigation.
Schiff declared that “in the coming weeks and months, new information will continue to be exposed through enterprising journalism, indictments by the Special Counsel, or continued investigative work by committee Democrats and our counterparts in the Senate,” and “each time this new information becomes public, Republicans will be held accountable for abandoning a critical investigation of such vital national importance.”
Rooney acknowledged that the Senate panel hasn’t reached conclusions or finished its investigation yet, but said it was convincing that more than 60 witnesses came before the House Intelligence Committee for the purpose of “asking them point blank to their face, was there any of the things that we’re looking at, was there any collusion, coordination, conspiracy, any of those things.”
“But I think in this system, you have to assume that people are telling the truth. If it comes out they are lying, then there’s consequences for that. But I think, first, I’m just going based on evidence and facts of what we asked of our witnesses,” Rooney added. “But Mueller and the Senate, who knows? Maybe they’re findings that we haven’t seen. But we certainly have not seen that.”
Trump trumpeted the action of the House committee’s majority in an all-caps tweet: “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.”
Schiff tweeted back, “This was not the finding of the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. President, but only a statement by its GOP members, who lack the courage to stand up to a President of their own party when the national interest necessitates it.”
The Russian Embassy, meanwhile, decided to quote Conaway “brilliantly” panning Kremlin ops:
All “Russia investigations” (not only in the US) are destined to end as @ConawayTX11 brilliantly concluded: “only Tom Clancy could take this series of inadvertent contacts, meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a spy thriller that could go out there”#JackRyan pic.twitter.com/rX4QEP7R3p
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) March 13, 2018