The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines on Thursday to release the Republicans’ final report on the committee’s Russia investigation, which argued in part that there was no evidence to suggest that Trump associates colluded with Russian operatives to tilt the 2016 election.
The report is expected to contradict a key finding of the special counsel’s probe. Last month, Mueller’s team indicted the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll-farm that spearheaded efforts to impersonate Americans on social media to spread Russian propaganda, and 13 individuals allegedly associated with those activities. While Mueller’s indictment said the Internet Research Agency’s efforts were directed toward helping Trump, the intelligence committee’s summary describes the intention as spreading “distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
According to a summary released by the committee’s GOP majority, the report does, however, fault members of the Trump campaign in what essentially amounts to a slap on the wrist. Communication between some Trump associates and WikiLeaks, the group that released hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign, was “ill-advised,” the report states.
“Possible Russian efforts to set up a ‘back channel’ with Trump associates after the election suggest the absence of collusion during the campaign, since the communication associated with collusion would have rendered such a ‘back channel’ unnecessary,” the summary states.
The document also references former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow. The trip was not on behalf of the Trump campaign, the summary states, but Page provided “seemingly incomplete accounts of his activity in Moscow.”
The president’s former national-security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, is also mentioned in the summary. The committee’s Republicans concluded that the FBI “did not detect any deception” on Flynn’s part, even though he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Republicans on the panel also concluded that while the U.S. intelligence community “employed proper analytic tradecraft” when it crafted its assessment on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, it “did not employ proper analytic tradecraft” when it evaluated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “strategic intentions.”
Those intentions, the intelligence community report stated, were to help then-candidate Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), the Republican who led the committee’s Russia investigation, told The Daily Beast last week that it was still possible that Putin preferred Trump.
The authors of the report also made a series of recommendations for federal officials, including the use of mandatory polygraph tests for “all non-confirmed political appointees that have top secret clearances” as part of an effort to crack down on individuals suspected of leaking classified information to the news media. The summary also states that Congress should consider passing legislation to “increase the penalties” for leaks. It names James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, has having “provided inconsistent testimony to the committee about his contacts with the media.”
Democrats have contended that the Republicans’ findings are incomplete, and that they shut down the investigation before interviewing key witnesses as part of an effort to shield Trump politically.
“Adoption of this flawed report will do little to advance our understanding of the Russian attack on our democracy in the 2016 elections, but it will please President Donald Trump and end the unpleasant task of investigating the President’s campaign and his own conduct, a duty that has apparently proven too onerous or perilous to be continued,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the intelligence committee’s top Democrat, said ahead of the committee’s vote to release the GOP report.
The final report will be released once it goes through a declassification process. The committee’s Democrats have vowed to continue investigating the Russia-related issues, even without support from the panel’s Republicans.
The partisan sniping on the House side stands in stark contrast to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has touted the bipartisan working relationship among the senators helming that panel’s Russia investigation. On Tuesday, that committee released its bipartisan recommendations to beef up U.S. election infrastructure and guard it against foreign cyberattacks ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election.