House Intelligence Committee votes to release GOP report finding no evidence of collusion

PHOTO: House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 13, 2018.PlaySusan Walsh/AP
WATCH Committee votes to release GOP report finding no evidence of collusion

The House Intelligence Committee voted Thursday along party lines to release the Republican majority’s report on its Russia investigation, which found no evidence of collusion, coordination or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

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The Republican-authored report, the first to be released from any congressional committee conducting a Russia investigation, now heads to the intelligence community for declassification, a process that could take weeks.

“Today, we are one step closer to delivering answers to the questions the American people have been asking for over a year,” Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the top Republican leading the Russian probe, said in a statement.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaking during the 2018 White House business session with Governors, Feb. 26, 2018.REX/Shutterstock
President Donald Trump speaking during the 2018 White House business session with Governors, Feb. 26, 2018.

Democrats, who will submit their own minority rebuttal for release alongside the GOP-authored report, argue that Republicans prematurely shut down the investigation under political pressure, and refused to follow important and unresolved leads.

Saying Thursday’s vote ended a “rather sad chapter” in the traditionally bipartisan committee’s history, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the committee, called the GOP report a “fundamentally unserious effort.”

“It was clear that their report was going to be completely political from beginning to end and there wasn't much to work on in a joint fashion,” he said.

While Democrats did not sign on to the report, some of its findings appear to be in line with sentiments the minority has previously expressed - including the conclusion that the Executive Branch's post-election response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election was "insufficient."

Some of the recommendations regarding election and cyber-security also echo the bipartisan recommendations on election security issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this week.

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“A lot of the report says stuff that we all know and we all agree with,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said. “It has a number of conclusions and findings with which we disagree.”

Republicans also dismissed allegations of wrongdoing during the campaign by Trump associates and family members, including Donald Trump Jr., who met with a Russian lawyer who promised information on Hillary Clinton in June of 2016, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has faced questions about meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign and subsequent testimony to Congress about his and the Trump campaign's communications with Russian officials.

In their report, Republicans said they found no evidence of collusion related to Trump’s “pre-campaign business dealings” - a subject Democrats have wanted to scrutinize more closely.

Republicans also concluded that Trump associates had repeated “ill-advised” contacts with WikiLeaks, but argued that possible Russian efforts to set up a backchannel with the Trump camp after the election “suggest the absence of collusion during the campaign.”

Their report describes the sourcing of the information in the infamous dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Steele was employed by opposition research firm Fusion GPS that was funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign. It is unclear whether the report will include an assessment of that information.

Republicans also determined that leaks of classified information since the election “have damaged national security and potentially endangered lives,” and accused former Obama administration Director of National Intelligence James Clapper of providing “inconsistent testimony” to the committee about his contacts with the media.

They have recommended that Congress pass legislation to increase the penalties for unauthorized disclosures of classified information and that the Executive Branch institute polygraphs for all non-confirmed political appointees with top secret clearance.

The report also calls on Congress to consider repealing the Logan Act, the 18th-century law that forbids private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.

Conaway and committee Republicans initially said their report disagreed with the assessment from top intelligence officials that Russian President Vladimir Putin preferred Trump to win the election over Hillary Clinton. That finding, which some Republicans on the committee disputed, was not included in the summary of findings released Thursday, though Republicans said the intelligence community “did not employ proper analytical tradecraft” regarding Putin’s “strategic intentions.”

Democrats offered motions to subpoena more than a dozen witnesses and entities to compel additional testimony, documents, and information, including outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks, Sessions and Deutsche Bank.

Republicans opposed the moves, Schiff said, adding that Democrats plan to push the committee to release witness interview transcripts.

The votes in committee broke down along party lines, with Democrats opposing the release of the report and Republicans opposing Democrats’ motions, save for Rep. Trey Gowdy's "present" vote on Democrats' motion to hold former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer the committee’s questions while under subpoena, according to a source in the business meeting.

Democrats plan to continue investigating unilaterally, amid reports that a data firm tied to the Trump campaign improperly collected data from millions of Facebook profiles without permission.

They are planning to interview Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica employee who has alleged wrongdoing at the company and could release their own minority report sometime before the midterm elections.

Republicans, who have signaled that they will not join additional interviews, have accused Democrats of seeking to extend the probe for political purposes.

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