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Divisions deepen as Mueller probe hits one year

Partisan divisions over the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election deepened Wednesday as new developments rippled across Capitol Hill.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley asks Blinken to provide potential conflicts involving John Kerry Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (R-Iowa) started the day with the release of more than 2,000 pages of transcripts of interviews with Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpTrump Jr. shares edited video showing father knocking Biden down with golf ball Trump: 'I can't imagine' any Republican would beat me in 2024 primary if I run Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE and other participants in a controversial 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer — a move that Democrats said signals an effort to prematurely end the committee’s investigation. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee said it agrees with the intelligence community’s assessment (ICA) in 2016 that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an interference campaign in the U.S. election to help President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing MORE — breaking from its counterpart in the House.

And in the House, three members of the Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Trump asking him to intervene in their increasingly acrimonious battle with the Department of Justice over access to documents related to Mueller’s investigation.

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The three disputes came on the eve of the anniversary of the launch of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE’s investigation into Russian interference — a probe that has roiled Capitol Hill, angered Trump and increasingly pitted lawmakers against one other.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling has long been stymied by partisan infighting between Grassley and ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' MORE (D-Calif.).

While Grassley said the Wednesday release of the transcripts was intended “to allow the public to know what we know,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture How to fast-track climate action? EPA cutting super pollutant HFCs MORE (D-N.Y.) denounced it as a “perfunctory” move aimed at ending “the committee’s on-again, off-again halting investigation.”

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee insisted that the “full story” of the Trump Tower meeting remains unknown to them and that the probe has been hindered by “the lack of bipartisan agreement on what to investigate.”

In the House, meanwhile, Reps. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE (R-N.C.), Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan says 'votes are there' to oust Cheney from GOP leadership Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld Facebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one MORE (R-Ohio) and Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisACLU sues Florida over law targeting ballot initiatives Montana governor approves restrictions on transgender athletes in schools Advocates sound alarm as restrictive voting laws pile up MORE (R-Fla.) wrote in a letter to Trump that the Justice Department “has obstructed Congressional oversight by refusing to supply necessary and relevant documents” and said Trump should order the department to provide the documents they are seeking.

Among the requests is access to a full, unredacted memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinProtect the police or the First Amendment? Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Comey argues Trump shouldn't be prosecuted after leaving Oval Office MORE spelling out the scope of Mueller’s mandate — a highly sensitive document that could reveal exactly what the special counsel is after in his investigation.

Still, the most consequential release of the day was likely the joint statement from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBattle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers FDA unveils plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to country: 'Turning peril into possibility' MORE (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks MORE (D-Va.), whose Russia investigation has remained on bipartisan footing. In the statement, Burr said the committee sees “no reason to dispute the conclusions” reached by the intelligence community under former President Obama.

“After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the ICA conclusions were accurate and on point,” Warner said. “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights MORE.”

The assessment, released in January 2017, has been a flashpoint in the partisan rancor surrounding the Russian influence campaign.

The intelligence community unanimously concluded that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election for three reasons: to undermine U.S. democracy, to damage the Democratic nominee, Clinton, and to help Trump win the White House. Putin developed “a clear preference” for Trump, according to the assessment.

But Trump has disputed Putin’s support for his candidacy, and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee in their final report said that the “tradecraft” behind that conclusion was faulty.

The statement from Burr and Warner — which came at the conclusion of a closed hearing with the senior Obama officials who signed off on the original document — signals that the final report on their investigation into Russian meddling will likely differ from the one produced by their colleagues in the House.

The lower chamber largely agreed with the intelligence community’s assessment, taking issue only with the conclusion about Putin’s preference, and Burr on Wednesday disputed the notion that the Senate panel’s conclusions were “dramatically different.”

“Today, the only thing that we have acknowledged is that the ICA was accurate,” he told reporters. “When we come out with our final report, we’ll probably cover any places that we have questions or discrepancies with what the ICA might have stated.”

But, he continued, “That’s very different than what the House did.”

“The House basically said, we disagree with the ICA because we found nothing that contributed to supporting Donald Trump. The question is, is working against Hillary Clinton the same thing as working for Donald Trump?”

Burr argued that it would have been impossible for Putin to intervene in support of Trump before Trump had jumped into the presidential race, noting, “When you get to where the [Democratic National Committee] was hacked, he wasn’t even in the top three.”

House Republicans ended their investigation into Russia’s election meddling last month, over the objections of Democrats who said that they had soft-pedaled the inquiry. The panel ultimately produced two separate sets of conclusions, including the Republican assertion that analysts did not meet the proper standards to judge Putin’s preference.

Most committee Republicans were careful to say that they hadn’t assessed whether the intelligence community’s underlying claim — that Putin developed a “clear preference” for Trump — was correct. What the panel took issue with was the evidence they used to reach that conclusion.

“I don’t know what Vladimir Putin’s opinion was,” Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdPence autobiography coming from Simon & Schuster Prince Harry joins Aspen Institute commission on misinformation Congress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent MORE (R-Texas), a former CIA officer, told Fox News at the time. “The intelligence that was used to make that assessment was substandard and it went through a very atypical process.”

House Intelligence Republicans are expected to issue a second report centered solely on the intelligence community assessment, although it is unclear how much of that document will be made public, given the classified nature of the underlying information.

The conclusion that Putin sought to help Trump win the White House has captivated Washington for more than a year and has fueled endless speculation about whether Moscow was coordinating its broader influence efforts with the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile, Mueller is pressing forward with his investigation, which has already yielded guilty pleas from several individuals in Trump’s orbit — including former national security adviser Michael Flynn — and indictments of 13 Russians accused in the elaborate disinformation plot.

Trump has raged against the investigation, repeatedly saying that there was “no collusion” and casting Mueller’s inquiry as a “witch hunt.” Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), the newest member of Trump’s legal team, suggested this week that the president and his allies would look to use the anniversary of Mueller’s probe to step up their attacks on the investigation.

“We are going to try as best we can to put the message out there that it has been a year, there has been no evidence presented of collusion or obstruction, and it is about time for them to end the investigation,” Giuliani told Bloomberg.

Trump allies on Capitol Hill have echoed that assessment. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesMcCarthy unveils House GOP task forces, chairs Former GOP operative installed as NSA top lawyer resigns Sunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues MORE (R-Calif.) told Fox News this week that there was never any “credible evidence or intelligence” to open the original counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will be closely watched as it moves into the final months of its investigation.

Burr told reporters this month that he expects his panel to wrap up its probe in August, but investigators have not yet finished interviewing witnesses.

The committee will not address the question of collusion until it issues its final report.