Republicans on the House intelligence committee announced on Monday that they had finished a bipartisan investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and found no evidence of wrongdoing by from the president’s camp.
And Democrats protested.
A one-page summary of the Republicans’ forthcoming report, released Monday evening, signalled the beginning of the end of a year-long saga that pitted the committee against itself and, per some observers, left Congressional efforts to effectively oversee the sprawling Intelligence Community permanently hobbled.
According to committee Republicans, they found evidence of Russian cyberattacks and efforts to “sow discord” on social media. But no collusion.
“We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” said an initial statement previewing the report.
Committee Democrats will have access to the Republicans’ report on Tuesday. Republicans will later release a declassified version of the report, and Democrats will release their own counter-report.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, called the probe’s end a “capitulation to the executive branch.”
“[H]istory will judge its actions harshly,” he said in a lengthy statement.
Rep. Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican who helped helm the probe, said the point of the investigation was to help states defend against potential interference in the 2018 midterms and on.
“We’re now nine months out, and the threat of Russian interference has not diminished,” Rooney said in a statement. “Make no mistake: this is a close to just one chapter in the threat posed by Moscow – which began well before the investigation – but our work does not stop here, and this Committee’s oversight over Russian threats to the U.S. will continue.”
For this committee, future efforts to work productively across the aisle on Russia matters look dead on arrival.
From the start, partisan sniping plagued the investigation. Chairman Devin Nunes, the Republican who heads the committee, set off an enormous row when he made a strange late-night trip to the White House and then held an impromptu press conference on alleged violations of Trump campaign officials’ privacy rights. Nunes claimed that sources from the intelligence agencies alerted him to abuse. But in fact, White House staffers shared the allegations with him in an apparent effort to justify Trump’s Twitter-claims that then-President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
From there, things got even messier. Nunes stepped back from running the probe, putatively handing the reins of the probe to Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican. But privately, committee sources complained that Nunes’ staff were the true drivers of the effort.
And Nunes essentially helmed an investigation-within-an-investigation; his staff put out a much-hyped memo that they claimed proved Obama administration officials misled the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get authorization to surveil a former Trump campaign staffer. The memo –– which spawned the viral hashtag #releasethememo –– generated much head-scratching among conservative national security experts, with the exception of Sean Hannity’s guests.
And tensions over witnesses also burbled out of the closed-door committee room and into the open. Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks both used sweeping claims of executive privilege to refuse to answer questions from committee members. Instead of pushing them to be fulsome, Republicans rolled over, committee Democrats claimed –– signaling to would-be witnesses for years to come that they would pay little price for stonewalling.
One of the last blow-ups from the committee involved a leak to the lawyer for Michael Cohen, who himself is the long-time personal lawyer of Trump. The Daily Beast reported last week that one witness’s attorney got a call from Cohen’s lawyer, who asked for detail from that attorney’s client’s testimony. The lawyer who got the call was outraged, and complained to the committee.
“While a joint report would have been better, the partisanship on both sides of the aisle has made that impossible, and the committee’s failure to stop leaks and inability to get fulsome answers from witnesses undermines its ability to conduct serious oversight in the future on critical national security matters,” said Jamil Jaffer, who is also the Founder of the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School and a former Senior Counsel to the House Intelligence Committee.
Now, this year of drama is finally coming to a head. The probe may end, but the rifts on the committee will linger for years.