House Republicans release redacted Russia report
By Jeremy Herb, CNN
The House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a redacted version of the Republican report on the committee’s year-long Russia investigation, in which GOP members say they found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and disputed the intelligence community’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to help elect Donald Trump.
The committee released the report with redactions from the intelligence community, along with a redacted Democratic dissent. saying collusion exists and that there were key aspects of the probe Republicans failed to investigate.
The report’s release marks the conclusion of a yearlong committee investigation that devolved into a partisan brawl between Democrats and Republicans, fighting over the decision by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to step aside from the probe, the subpoenas that were and were not issued and dueling memos over a surveillance warrant for a former Trump campaign adviser.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the report on Friday evening, calling the Russia probe “a hoax.”
“House Intelligence Committee rules that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump Campaign and Russia. As I have been saying all along, it is all a big Hoax by the Democrats based on payments and lies. There should never have been a Special Councel (sic) appointed. Witch Hunt!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The Republican report itself, which is 253 pages long, had “overzealous redactions” from the intelligence community that the committee plans to fight, according to Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican who led the committee’s Russia probe.
“Many of the redactions include information that is publicly available, such as witness names and information previously declassified,” Conaway said.
The committee ended its investigation into Russia’s 2016 election meddling last month, concluding they found no evidence that Trump’s team had colluded with Russians.
“We found no evidence of collusion, and so we found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings,” Conaway said when they submitted their report for declassification.
But Democrats say Republicans failed to interview key witnesses and issue subpoenas to obtain necessary information, charging their colleagues were not interested in uncovering collusion. They are now continuing their own investigation without Republicans into Russia’s election meddling. They released a 98-page document that pushes back on the Republican conclusions.
“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,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, said in a statement.
Trump has seized on the Republican findings, claiming multiple times that the committee found no collusion, despite Democrats disputing that finding. He tweeted again on Friday that the Republican report found “no evidence” of collusion.
“Just Out: House Intelligence Committee Report released. ‘No evidence’ that the Trump Campaign ‘colluded, coordinated or conspired with Russia.’ Clinton Campaign paid for Opposition Research obtained from Russia- Wow! A total Witch Hunt! MUST END NOW!” Trump tweeted.
Trump later said Friday that he was “honored” by the report.
“We were honored. It was a great report, no collusion, which I knew anyway, no coordination, no nothing. It’s a witch hunt, that’s all it is,” Trump said.
The Republican report details the major revelations of the past year over connections between Trump’s team and Russia, from the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting to contacts with WikiLeaks and meetings with Russians, repeatedly clearing Trump’s associates of trying to collude in the election.
Though it found no collusion, the Republican report does fault the Trump campaign over several key events during the campaign. It states that the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that a Russian lawyer and had with Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort “demonstrated poor judgment.”
It also states that 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.”
The Republican report also faults Hillary Clinton’s campaign for its role in the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia, stating that the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee “paid for opposition research on Trump obtained from Russian sources, including a litany of claims by high-ranking current and former Russian government officials.”
New details about the Trump Tower meeting
Much of the Republican report, as well as the Democratic response, reviewed the major news events that have occurred over the past year, from the Trump Tower meeting to revelations about contacts with WikiLeaks and meetings with Russians to the Trump Tower Moscow discussions.
There was some new information embedded in the documents. Aras Agalarov, the Russian oligarch who orchestrated the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, sent Trump “an expensive painting for the candidate’s birthday” one day after the meeting, the Democratic report states, citing an email from music promoter Rob Goldstone, who organized the Trump Tower meeting, to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.
“There are few things better than receiving a sensational gift from someone you admire — and that’s what I’ve received from you,” Trump responded to Agalarov a week later, according to the Democratic document.
Democrats also cite testimony of Trump Jr. and others about the Trump Tower meeting.
“I’d say we spent less than, you know, 5 minutes of the 20 minutes, again, speaking through a translator about the quote/unquote ‘dirt,’ and the rest was a quick segue, bait-and-switch, whatever you want to call it, to speak about Russian adoption and the Magnitsky Act,” Trump Jr. told the committee.
“But it’s fair to say you were hoping for something more useful than what you got?” Schiff asked.
“That’s fair,” Trump Jr. responded.
Explaining Trump-Russia connections
The Republican report clears Trump’s team on a number of fronts that Democrats have pointed to as signs of possible collusion.
The Republicans say they did not find any evidence, for instance, that Trump associates were involved in the publication of hacked emails by WikiLeaks and others, including Roger Stone, the Trump confidant who had appeared to predict releases of hacked emails.
The report cites emails exchanged between Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian-American business associate Felix Sater over building a Trump Tower Moscow while Trump was running for president, in which Sater suggested “our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.”
Sater, whose name is redacted, suggested he had contacts in the Russian government to help move the project along, but he told the committee his comments were ”mere puffery.”
“The Committee therefore assesses that (redacted) was attempting to leverage political contacts for business purposes, rather than the other way around,” the report says of Sater.
The committee Republicans also found no fault with the change to the Republican platform in 2016, in which support for lethal weapons to Ukraine was removed.
In fact, the Republicans say the change strengthened the platform.
“After reviewing the Republican Party platform amendment process, Interviewing those involved, and reviewing document productions, the Committee determined that the original plank was strengthened, rather than weakened-and there is no evidence that language advocating for the provisions of ‘lethal defensive weapons’ was Improperly removed,” the report states.
In the case of the meeting that Blackwater founder Erik Prince took with Russian government investor Kirill Dmitriev, which has been alleged to be an attempt to set up a “back channel” with Russia, Republicans take the novel approach that it shows the absence of collusion during the campaign because in that case, a back channel would not be needed. The report says that Kushner and Prince disagreed with the purpose of a back channel, while saying it “potentially reflected an absence of such channels during the campaign.”
And in the case of the two Trump campaign aides most closely associated with Russia — George Papadopoulos and Carter Page — the report downplays their roles on the campaign.
“There is no evidence that anyone on the Trump campaign was aware of Page’s past ties to Russian intelligence services-or Papadopoulos’ more recent contacts with a Russian-connected professor-when these two individuals were included among the advisers that were publicly announced on March 21,” the report states. “In fact, as Kushner candidly put it, ‘we put together that list because we were getting a lot of pressure from the media to put out a list of foreign policy advisers.'”
Putin’s goals disputed
The report does take issue with the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s election meddling, as well as the intelligence community’s public assessment over Russia’s interference.
One of the main disputes over the Republican report when it was first summarized last month focused on whether Putin was seeking to help Trump get elected president, as the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment concluded.
The Republican report cites “significant intelligence tradecraft failings” in that assessment, which they argue “undermine confidence” in the judgments about Putin’s objectives in the 2016 election, saying that the draft was “subjected to an unusually constrained review and coordination process.” Republicans plan to issue a follow-up report with more detail on the matter.
Schiff, however, said Democrat “watered down” their findings about the intelligence community, and argued there was “no evidence that calls into question the quality and reliability” of the assessment.
The Republicans also take aim at the opposition research dossier compiled on Trump and Russia by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The dossier was the subject of the Republican memo spearheaded by Nunes, a California Republican, accusing the FBI of illicitly obtaining a surveillance warrant on Page.
The report notes that the Clinton campaign and DNC indirectly paid for the dossier through Fusion GPS — and raises the prospect that the Kremlin was trying to influence Steele.
“The Committee is concerned with the degree to which the Kremlin may have sought to influence information that was ultimately provided to Steele-through the potential provision of disinformation or otherwise-consistent with its ongoing efforts ‘to undermine public faith in the US democratic process,'” the report states.
The Republicans also devote a section of their report to leaks in the intelligence community, which is heavily redacted but concludes the leaks “may have damaged national security and potentially endangered lives.”
Conaway says that even though the report was released Friday, he intends to push the intelligence community to declassify more of the report.
Some of the redactions are obviously known, including names of key figures like former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Page’s name is redacted in some areas and not in others.
While this report marks the end of the Republican Russia investigation, Republicans are continuing other investigations and reports. They are still planning a fuller explanation of the intelligence community assessment in the coming weeks, and Nunes has said he will continue his investigation into the dossier and the State Department.
The Democrats, meanwhile have made clear they plan to continue probing the matter. In addition to writing a fuller report, they are continuing to call more witnesses. They spoke to a former Cambridge Analytica contractor earlier this week and plan to seek others who are willing to speak to them.