Intelligence report defends Trump, draws attacks from Dems
The House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a GOP-authored, heavily redacted report that found no evidence of collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The document also aims to rebut a series of claims about the campaign’s ties to Russia, devoting an entire chapter, roughly 20 pages, to challenge such points.
The tome provides a defense for many of the incidents that have drawn scrutiny as evidence of potential collusion between Trump and Moscow, including the claim that attempts to set up a back channel between the campaign and Moscow “suggest the absence of collusion” because colluding with Russia would’ve rendered such a channel “unnecessary.”
Committee Democrats have refused to endorse the document produced by the panel, which conducted a politically fraught investigation dominated by partisanship.
The GOP report did find some fault with Trump’s campaign, but it also faulted Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well as the GOP national security establishment.
One finding blames “the Republican national security establishment’s opposition to candidate Trump” for “creat[ing] opportunities for two less-experienced individuals with pro-Russia views to serve as campaign advisors.”
The void allowed George Papadopoulos and Carter Page to join the campaign as foreign policy advisers, the report said, since there were “more experienced national security specialists who were unwilling top advise candidate Trump.”
Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is reportedly cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Page has made headlines for more than a year and was reportedly the subject of a wiretap that led Trump to argue his campaign was the victim of a conspiracy that included the Justice Department and FBI.
In faulting Trump’s team, Republicans also found that it was “poor judgment” for the GOP campaign to praise WikiLeaks.
It found the Trump campaign’s “periodic praise for and communications with Wikileaks — a hostile foreign organization — to be highly objectionable and inconsistent with U.S. national security interests.”
Another case of poor judgment by the Trump campaign, according to the report, was the controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign aides met with a Russian lawyer with the intention of obtaining dirt about Clinton’s campaign.
While the president’s eldest son was “open to discussing derogatory information from Russian government sources that could be useful to candidate Trump,” he did not ultimately obtain it, according to the report.
The report blames the Clinton campaign for using “cutouts” to fund opposition research against Trump that was obtained from “a series of Russian sources.”
The 253-page document suggests that Russia broadly attempted to sow discord in the U.S., challenging a key finding of the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment that the Kremlin sought to help Trump win the presidency.
Trump has fiercely disputed that claim, calling the notion that Russia tried to help him win “ridiculous.”
He hailed the politically friendly GOP report on Friday, saying that the Russian investigation “MUST END NOW.”
While the intelligence community’s assessment (ICA) on Russian efforts did mostly follow the proper analytic tradecraft, the report states, the intelligence community failed to “employ proper analytic tradecraft” with respect to Putin’s “strategic intentions.”
The ICA is otherwise a well-done analysis, the Republican report states, except for the finding that Russia was motivated to get Trump into the Oval Office.
The committee will be putting out a separate report about its findings on the ICA this spring.
Democrats hammered the report as “superficial,” claiming Republicans are trying to protect Trump.
“Throughout the investigation, Committee Republicans chose not to seriously investigate — or even see, when in plain sight — evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, instead adopting the role of defense counsel for key investigation witnesses,” Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
Schiff, challenging the Republican findings, said their investigation did find “evidence of collusion.”
“In fact, we found evidence of collusion in the abundant secret meetings and communications between Trump campaign officials and associates such as Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and others, with emissaries and officials from, or linked to the Russian government,” he said.
He said the public must await Mueller’s report to find out whether evidence of collusion “reaches the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal conspiracy” since the GOP “refused to interview the witnesses and obtain the documents necessary to find out.”
Much of the report’s contents had already been reported and Republicans had previously released a summary of their key findings, outlining the broad contours of the document. But the report fleshes out their rationale and provides a handful of new details.
One new revelation from the report is that Gen. Michael Flynn met with a top Russian diplomat, Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential transition.
“Prior to his trip to Moscow, General Flynn and his son met with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak at the ambassador’s private residence in Washington D.C. on December 2, 2016,” the report says.
“The meeting was later described by General Flynn’s son in an email to the Russian embassy as ‘very productive.’ The email indicates that the meeting was arranged at the request of General Flynn or his son,” the report says.
Flynn fleetingly served as the White House national security adviser to Trump before he stepped down after lying to Vice President Pence about his conversations with top Russian officials.
While Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about such contacts, the report noted that the FBI investigators did not “detect any deception during Flynn’s interview.”
The report also notes how Flynn, who forwarded email correspondence he had with a military friend to a communications adviser, wrote that a number of cyber operations are expected to take place during the election.
“There are a number of things happening (and will happen) this election via cyber options (by both activists, nation-states, and the DNC),” Flynn wrote in July 2016, according to the report.
The report found that this particular statement, however, “does not necessarily indicate non-public knowledge, and could have instead reflected commentary on then-current public events,” because cybersecurity firms such as CrowdStrike had credited Guccifer 2.0 with hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in mid-June.
The DNC and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta are two high-profile victims who were hacked during the election. Their internal correspondence was leaked to the public, creating an embarrassing public relations nightmare for Democrats, who have claimed the leaks were part of a broad Russian effort to damage Clinton’s campaign and help Trump’s campaign.
The document lays out a series of cases where the government failed to adequately provide proper notifications of threats to involved parties, like notifying the victims affected by Russians cyberattacks or notifying the Trump campaign about concerns about Papadopoulos and Page.
“The Committee found that the Trump campaign was not notified that members of the campaign were potential counterintelligence concerns. This lack of notification meant that the campaign was unable to address the problems with each campaign member and was ignorant about the potential national security concerns,” the report says.
“The FBI did not provide any such warning about Page, although it was again discussed by the administration’s most senior policymakers after Director Comey briefed the National Security Council principals about the Page information in ‘late spring’ 2016,” the report notes, referring to then-FBI Director James Comey.
The report notes that Page was “already a subject of interest for the FBI” before he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.
They similarly did not provide any heads-up to the campaign about Papadopoulos, who triggered the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation when he bragged during a meeting with an Australian diplomat in April 2016 that Russians had obtained “thousands” of Clinton’s emails.
The committee, however, said it was not able to “discern if the referenced emails were the missing emails from candidate Clinton’s server while she was Secretary of State or the emails that were stolen from the DNC.”
The campaign later tried to distance itself from Papadopoulos, describing him as a mere coffee boy.
Katie Bo Williams contributed.