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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 1:00 am

GOP House committee finds no collusion with Russians

News services

WASHINGTON – House Intelligence Committee Republicans have completed a draft report in their year-long Russia probe that states they found no evidence President Donald Trump or anyone affiliated with him colluded with Russian officials to affect the outcome of the 2016 election, a conclusion expected to incite backlash from Democrats.

Republicans also determined that while the Russian government did pursue “active measures” to interfere in the election, it did not do so with the intention of helping Trump's campaign, contradicting the U.S. intelligence community's findings.

“We've found no evidence of collusion,” Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who oversees the Russia probe, said Monday. He noted that the worst they had uncovered was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings” – such as a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower that Conaway said “shouldn't have happened, no doubt about that.”

“But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever and weave that into some sort of a fiction, page-turner spy thriller,” Conaway said. “We're not dealing in fiction, we're dealing in facts and we found no evidence of any collusion.”

Hours later, Trump tweeted his own headline of the report: “THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION OR COORDINATION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA TO INFLUENCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.”

The GOP's conclusion comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe is ramping up its investigation of the Trump team's alleged effort to coordinate activities with Russian officials, even gathering evidence that an early 2017 meeting in Seychelles was an effort to establish a back channel to the Kremlin.

The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, suggested that by wrapping up the probe the Republicans were protecting Trump. He called the development a “tragic milestone” and said history would judge them harshly.

Republicans “proved unwilling to subpoena documents like phone records, text messages, bank records and other key records so that we might determine the truth about the most significant attack on our democratic institutions in history,” Schiff said.

The congressional investigations are completely separate from Mueller's probe, which is likely to take much longer. Unlike Mueller's, congressional investigations aren't criminal but serve to inform the public and to recommend possible legislation.

Democrats and Republicans on the committee have interviewed the same 73 witnesses and viewed the same 300,000-plus documents, according to the tally Conaway gave reporters Monday.

But Democrats say there are thousands more pages of documents the committee never procured and dozens more witnesses they need to call in to interview.

Democrats have also warned Republicans against shutting down the panel investigation before Mueller's investigation is completed.

But Conaway dismissed the idea of keeping the investigation open any longer, telling reporters that if Democrats expected him to “sit around and wait with the expectation that something might happen,” his answer was “no.”

He also argued against using subpoenas or stronger measures – such as contempt citations – to compel any more testimony from witnesses who have appeared before the panel but refused to answer questions related to their time in the administration, arguing that Trump might eventually want to invoke executive privilege.

Democrats were not part of the drafting of the GOP's report and were not presented with a copy of the findings before Conaway addressed the press.

Conaway told reporters that he would give committee Democrats the report today for their comments, suggestions and proposed changes, which he would take under advisement before presenting it to the intelligence community for redactions. He said that the report would likely not be released to the public before April.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating the Russian intervention and is expected to have a bipartisan report out in the coming weeks dealing with election security.

The Senate panel is expected to issue findings on the more controversial issue of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia at a later date.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, also investigating the meddling, is expected to release transcripts soon of closed-door interviews with several people who attended the 2016 meeting between the Trump campaign and Russians. It's unclear if the Judiciary panel will produce a final report.