House GOP ending Russia probe, says no collusion found

The House Intelligence Committee is shutting down its contentious investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the top Republican leading the probe announced on Monday.

The committee will interview no more witnesses and Republicans are in the process of preparing their final report, Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayHuawei: FCC proposal would hurt poor, rural communities Senate panel upholds finding that Russia backed Trump, contradicting House Trump era ramps up tech worker revolt MORE (R-Texas) told reporters. A draft of that roughly 150-page report will be delivered to committee Democrats for review on Tuesday. 

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The draft document asserts that there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the most politically charged question examined by the committee.

It will also contradict an official U.S. intelligence community assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin showed a “preference” for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Chicago detention facility under investigation following allegations of abuse of migrant children Ex-Trump aide: Surveillance warrants are 'complete ignorance' and 'insanity' MORE during the race — another assertion that Trump has disputed.

“We found no evidence of collusion,” Conaway said Monday. “We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings — but 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.”

Further, he said, “we couldn’t establish the same conclusion that the CIA did that [the Russians] specifically wanted to help Trump.”

Trump applauded the committee's findings on Twitter:

The announcement is unlikely to herald any bipartisan conclusion to the central questions in an investigation that for more than a year has been mired in investigatory offshoots, leaks and bitter fighting between committee members. 

The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Sunday shows preview: Questions linger over Trump-Putin summit Obama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena MORE (Calif.), in a blistering statement called the end of the probe a "tragic milestone" and a "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 wrote.

Schiff in his statement emphatically rejected the GOP's assertion that the Russians did not seek to help Trump's campaign, saying the evidence "is clear and overwhelming that the Intelligence Community Assessment was correct."

"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.

Republicans have said for months that they were ready to wind down the investigation, having found no evidence of collusion. Democrats paint a different picture, warning that Republicans are protecting the president by failing to conduct a serious investigation.

Conaway said Monday that he expects Democrats to make “extensive changes” to the draft report Republicans will deliver on Tuesday. Lawmakers from both parties have long said that Democrats would likely issue their own report. 

The GOP report will confirm a broad-based Russian active measures campaign designed to sow discord during the 2016 presidential race, as well as a “lackluster” pre-election response to that campaign.

It will also include “how anti-Trump research made its way from Russian sources to the [Hillary] Clinton campaign,” an apparent reference to the controversial dossier of opposition research on Trump compiled in part by former British spy Christopher Steele, who was hired by the research firm Fusion GPS.

“We will say that there was an attempt to use foreign sources with respect to the Clinton campaign,” Conaway said. 

“It was clear that there was — at least Steele and however much he talked and didn’t talk to Russians — that’s foreigners and that information was paid for by the [Democratic National Committee] and the Clinton campaign,” Conaway said, adding, “I don’t have any direct evidence that they knew about it.”

The GOP report will also include a section covering what the committee believes were criminal leaks related to the dossier, though Conaway said the committee lacked the evidence to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department.

The draft report also includes recommendations for both Congress and the executive branch, centered on election security, government response to cyberattacks and support to European allies.

The investigation, launched in January 2017, is coming to a close after lawmakers reviewed more than 300,000 documents and interviewed 73 witnesses, including former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpFox News bigger than ever two years after Roger Ailes Kimberly Guilfoyle leaving Fox News to campaign with Donald Trump Jr.: report George Will charges that Trump colluded with Putin MORE and Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerGeorge Will charges that Trump colluded with Putin DNC claims Secret Service blocked attempt to deliver lawsuit against Kushner On The Money: US files complaints at WTO | House leaders get deal to boost biz investment | Mnuchin says US will consider Iran sanctions waivers | FCC deals blow to Sinclair-Tribune merger MORE.

As initially conceived, the probe was tasked with four investigatory pillars, including the Russian interference effort, the government’s response to that campaign, leaks of classified information related to those matters and any ties between Russia and “individuals associated with political campaigns.”

Despite regular outbreaks of internecine fighting, the investigation has produced one of the most significant public developments in the Russia saga to date: It was at a public committee hearing that then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThere was nothing remotely treasonous in Trump's performance with Putin Opinion: One FBI text message in Russia probe that should alarm every American Clapper: Intel officials showed Trump evidence of Putin's role in election meddling MORE revealed that the bureau was investigating the matter.

It was also the genesis of an ongoing GOP investigation, spearheaded by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Justice Dept releases surveillance applications for former Trump aide On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal MORE (R-Calif.), into what some House Republicans say were gross abuses of U.S. surveillance authorities. 

In a dramatic moment, Nunes stepped back from leading the investigation amidst a now-closed Ethics Committee investigation into whether he revealed classified information during an impromptu press conference last spring.

It was then that Conaway took over the investigation, though Democrats have complained that Nunes continued to assert his authority behind the scenes. Nunes has insisted the Ethics investigation, which cleared him of any wrongdoing, was a political sham.

Relations on the panel were further rocked earlier this year when committee Republicans forced the publication of a formerly classified memo prepared by Nunes’s staff alleging surveillance abuses, over the objections of both Democrats and the FBI.

Although Democrats were later permitted to release their own countermemo, they have since called on Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress Interior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia MORE (R-Wis.) to remove Nunes from his post as chairman.

Committee Republicans have said the investigations into surveillance abuses are separate from the Russia probe. Those reviews are ongoing, Conaway said Monday.

The panel has also been split by disputes over subpoenaing witnesses. Democrats have complained that Republicans have allowed witnesses to set the parameters of their testimony at the behest of the White House, a characterization disputed by Conaway on Monday.

“Broad statement, you use subpoenas when you think you can actually get something from them, and we’re not particularly confident that the subpoena process will get us any more than we had,” he said. “We also think we have the evidence we need to come to the conclusions we’ve come to.”

The committee will not pursue steps to enforce the subpoena of Bannon, who frustrated both Republicans and Democrats by refusing to answer questions outside of the 25 scripted by the White House during a pair of interviews this year.

The raucous investigation in the House has been dramatically different from a parallel probe underway in the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has largely kept its work under wraps and whose leaders have presented a united front.

The Senate panel’s work is ongoing. Its first product, a report on election security, is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Conaway on Monday declined to set a timeline for the public release of the House report, which must first be sent back to the intelligence community to be scrubbed for classified information.

He said the report would not be shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee before publication.