U.S. Republicans on a House of Representatives intelligence committee have completed a draft report concluding there was no collusion or co-ordination between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
It’s a finding that is sure to please the White House and enrage panel Democrats.
After a yearlong investigation, Texas Rep. Mike Conaway announced Monday that the committee has finished interviewing witnesses and will share the report with Democrats on Tuesday. Conaway is the Republican leading the House probe, one of several investigations on Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
Conaway previewed several of the report’s conclusions.
“We found no evidence of collusion,” Conaway told reporters Monday, suggesting that those who believe there was are reading too many spy novels.
“We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings. But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other… and weave that into sort of a fiction page turner, spy thriller.”
The public will not see the report until Democrats have reviewed it and the intelligence community has decided what information can become public, a process that could take weeks.
Democrats are expected to issue a separate report with much different conclusions.
In addition to the statement on co-ordination with Russians, the draft picks apart a central assessment made by the U.S. intelligence community shortly after the 2016 election — that Russian meddling in the campaign was intended to help Trump and support Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Committee aides said they spent hundreds of hours reviewing raw source material used by the intelligence services to make that claim and that it did not meet the appropriate standards.
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the intelligence material.
Conaway said there will be a second report just dealing with the intelligence assessment and its credibility.
Democrats have criticized Republicans on the committee for shortening the investigation, pointing to multiple contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia and saying they have seen far too few witnesses to make any judgment on collusion.
The two parties have openly fought throughout the investigation, with Democrats suggesting a coverup for a Republican president and one Republican member of the panel calling the probe “poison” for the previously bipartisan panel.
Leaks to media
According to Conaway, the report will agree with intelligence assessment on most details, including that Russians did meddle in the election. It will detail Russian cyberattacks on U.S. institutions during the election and the use of social media to sow discord.
It will also show a pattern of Russian attacks on European allies — information that could be redacted in the final report. It will blame officials in former president Barack Obama’s administration for a “lacklustre” response and look at leaks from the intelligence community to the media.
The report will include at least 25 recommendations, including how to improve election security and counter-intelligence efforts, as well as how to respond to cyberattacks.
The report is also expected to turn the subject of collusion toward the Clinton campaign, saying an anti-Trump dossier compiled by a former British spy and paid for by Democrats was one way that Russians tried to influence the election. Conaway did not suggest that Clinton knowingly co-ordinated with the Russians, but said the dossier clearly “would have hurt him and helped her.”
He also said there was no evidence that anything “untoward” happened at a 2016 meeting between members of the Trump campaign and Russians, though he called it ill-advised. Despite a promise of dirt on Clinton ahead of the meeting, there’s no evidence that such material was exchanged, he said.
Investigations aren’t criminal
The Senate’s intelligence committee is also investigating possible Russian intervention, and is expected to have a bipartisan report out in the coming weeks dealing with election security. The Senate panel is expected to issue findings on the more controversial issue of co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia at a later date.
The Senate judiciary committee, also investigating Russian meddling, is expected to release transcripts soon of closed-door interviews with several people who attended the 2016 meeting between the Trump campaign and Russians. It’s unclear if the judiciary panel will produce a final report.
The congressional investigations are completely separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which is likely to take much longer. Unlike Mueller’s, congressional investigations aren’t criminal, but rather serve to inform the public and recommend possible legislation.