House Intel votes to release report in Russia probe

Greg Nash

The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday voted along party lines to release its controversial, Republican-authored report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, bookending a year of contentious committee infighting.

The report will not immediately be made public. It must first be sent to the intelligence community for a declassification review.

Democrats are outraged by the end of the investigation, which they say was premature and done to protect the White House from scrutiny. The minority is in the process of preparing its own views to be appended to the Republican report, according to senior committee Democrat Jim Himes (Conn.).

That document, which the minority has until Monday night to complete under committee rules, will also have to go through the declassification process. The Republican report and the dissenting minority views will be submitted together.

The top Republican leading the investigation, Rep. Mike Conaway (Texas), said that they expect that review to be completed in two weeks, so that the report can be made public after Congress’s two-week Easter recess.

The report is now pushing 250 pages, he said, up from a 150-page draft.

According to a summary of the report released on Thursday, Republicans will assert that they found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The report will also claim that the tradecraft behind an official U.S. intelligence community assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin showed a “preference” for Donald Trump during the race was not “proper.”
In fact, the summary claims, “possible Russian efforts to set up a ‘back channel’ with Trump’s associates after the election suggest the absence of collusion during the campaign, since the communication associate with collusion would have rendered such a ‘back channel’ unnecessary.” 
The findings acknowledge that the committee is “concerned” about former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page’s “seemingly incomplete accounts of his activity in Moscow” — but blames “the Republican national security establishment’s opposition to candidate Trump” for creating “opportunities for two less-experienced individuals with pro-Russia views to serve as campaign advisors.” 
The second individual is foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. The report affirms that his drunken brag to an Australian diplomat that the Russians had compromising information on Hillary Clinton kickstarted the original counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. 
The summary also lays out a number of recommendations, most of which are targeted at improving election infrastructure security, boosting notification requirements and stifling intelligence leaks. 
One recommends the repeal of the Logan Act, a 1799 law that former national security adviser Michael Flynn is suspected by critics of running afoul of in his pre-inauguration conversations with the Russian ambassador. 
The release of a draft summary, last week, was met with triumph from Trump, who highlighted its conclusion that Republicans had uncovered no evidence of collusion.

Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) after the meeting on Thursday accused Republicans of failing to conduct a serious investigation, including compelling witnesses who failed to answer committee questions. He said there is ample evidence in the public realm of collusion.

“To my Republican colleagues who fail to see anything but innocent happenstance in these events, I would only ask you whether you would view the matter differently if [Obama national security adviser] Susan Rice had been engaged in secret discussions with the Russians, or a Russian attorney flew from Moscow to meet secretly with Chelsea Clinton and [Hillary Clinton campaign manager] Robby Mook in Clinton headquarters and then lied about it,” he said during his opening statement in the closed-door meeting.

“Would you see evidence of collusion in those facts? You would be hard-pressed to call it anything else.”

The Republicans’ final report, he told reporters after the vote, had been subject to significant changes even during the week leading up to Thursday’s vote.

Conaway described the additional 100 pages of material as “adds” and “annexes.”

During the meeting, the committee majority rejected a slate of proposals from Democrats — around a dozen, lawmakers said — to issue subpoenas to recalcitrant witnesses.

Conaway disputed the notion that the committee was closing the book on its scrutiny of Russia, insisting that there would be ongoing committee oversight.

“It’s never ‘it,’ ” he said. “Our responsibility is still what Putin is doing. That never ceases. We’re always looking.”

Schiff has said that Democrats intend to continue the investigation, including obtaining documents and interviewing witnesses.

Since committee Republicans announced that they would be closing the probe, allegations exploded into the public that Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm hired by the Trump campaign during the 2016 race, had inappropriately obtained private information on 50 million Facebook users.

The Cambridge Analytica whistleblower has agreed to interview with committee Democrats, according to Schiff, although the timeline is unclear.

Olivia Beavers contributed.

Updated at 3:32 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump George Papadopoulos Hillary Clinton House Intel Committee Investigation Jim Himes Mike Conaway Russia

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