Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee reached the opposite conclusion Monday from the intelligence community they oversee, announcing that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not trying to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election.
The Republicans also said they found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and that they are shutting down their yearlong investigation.
Their viewpoint — which perfectly aligns with Trump’s view on election meddling — will be met with sharp disagreement with Democrats and is bound to inflame partisan tensions on a committee that’s been beleaguered by partisanship throughout the course of its Russia probe.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the Russia investigation, said Monday that the committee had concluded its interviews for the Russia investigation, and the Republican staff had prepared a 150-page draft report that they would give to Democrats to review on Tuesday morning.
“We found no evidence of collusion, and so we found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings,” Conaway said. “We found no evidence of any collusion of anything people were actually doing, other than taking a meeting they shouldn’t have taken or just inadvertently being in the same building.”
Democrats say there are still scores of witnesses the committee should call, and argue that Republicans have failed to use subpoenas to obtain documents and require witnesses to answer questions that are central to the investigation.
Conaway told reporters that he feels the committee has investigated all avenues it needed to probe, and he argued that the panel would not have been able to obtain the information Democrats were seeking had they gone the route of subpoenaing witnesses or trying to hold them in contempt.
Conaway, for instance, said the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between senior campaign officials and a Russian lawyer where dirt on Clinton was promised was “ill advised.” But he said that the committee did not turn up any evidence of collusion, arguing the promoter who organized the meeting had exaggerated what the Russians would provide.
The committee’s report will conclude that they agree with 98% of the intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, according to a committee aide.
But the panel’s Republicans take issue with the key finding that Putin was trying get Trump elected. Conaway said it was clear the Russians were trying to sow discord in the 2016 US election, but Republicans did not establish the same conclusions as the CIA that they specifically were trying to help Trump.
The committee’s Russia investigation included interviews with 73 witnesses and a review of roughly 300,000 pages of documents, Conaway said. They included key figures like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, but Democrats have argued that those witnesses failed to fully provide documents or answer important questions.
Conaway said he hopes that Democrats can work with Republicans on the draft report, and he wants to take their feedback as they shape the final report. He declined to put a timeline on when the report would be made public, as the committee intends to submit it to the intelligence community for declassification beforehand.
Conaway said Democrats will agree with some elements of the report, such as the social media interference, but he acknowledged they’d take issue with others.
It’s widely expected Democrats will draft their own report that argues a case for collusion, as well as spells out all the avenues the committee did not investigate.
In addition to subpoenas and witnesses, Democrats have long raised issues about looking into Trump’s finances, something the committee had not probed. Conaway said he saw no “link” between Trump’s finances and the committee’s investigation, and he did not want to go on a fishing expedition.
The Republican report will also say how “anti-Trump research” made its way from Russian sources to the Clinton campaign through the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia. Conaway, however, stopped short of saying there was “collusion” between Clinton’s campaign and the Russians, something the President has alleged.
The end of the Russia interviews is only the latest battleground on the House Intelligence Committee, which has been consumed by partisan fights for the better part of a year, from Chairman Devin Nunes’ role in the investigation and more recently over competing memos about alleged surveillance abuses at the FBI during the Obama administration.
Several Republicans on the panel have been signaling for several weeks now that they’re ready for the Russia investigation to wrap up, arguing that Democrats are trying to extend the probe into the campaign season.
“To me, I don’t see anything else that’s out there that hasn’t been explored,” Rep. Pete King, a New York Republican, told CNN last week.
But Democrats say the committee has raced through its final interviews, while allowing witnesses to pick and choose which questions they answer.
The committee issued a subpoena to former White House chief strategist Bannon in January, but in his return testimony he still did not answer questions about his time in the White House.
Democrats also sought subpoenas for the committee’s last two witnesses, outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, but Republicans did not issue them.
“There are a number of steps that I think any credible investigator would say, ‘These need to be done,’ and we still hope that they will be,” Schiff said following Lewandowski’s interview last week.
There are still two committees in the Senate that are investigating Russia’s 2016 election meddling: the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
Still, only the Senate Intelligence Committee appears to be pushing forward at full speed on its probe, as Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is preparing to release transcripts of the committee’s interviews with participants of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting — a potential sign the committee is done investigating that matter.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to put out recommendations and hold a hearing on election security this month. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr has said he’s separating out the election security issues for the 2018 primary season while the committee continues to investigate questions about collusion and the 2016 election.