House probers find no collusion; GOP draft clears Trump campaign

In this March 8, 2018, photo, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, left, at the Capitol in Washington. Republicans on the House intelligence committee have completed a draft report concluding there was no collusion or coordination between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. The finding is sure to please the White House and enrage panel Democrats who have not yet seen the document. After a yearlong investigation, Conaway says the committee has finished doing witness interviews. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON -- Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said they have completed a draft report concluding there was no collusion or coordination between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.

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.

After a yearlong investigation, Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas announced Monday that the committee has finished interviewing witnesses and will share the report with Democrats today. Conaway is the Republican leading the House probe, one of several investigations on Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

Conaway previewed several of the report's conclusions.

"We found no evidence of collusion," Conaway told reporters Monday, suggesting that those who believe there was are reading too many spy novels. "We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings. But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, or meetings or whatever, and weave that into sort of a fiction page turner, spy thriller."

Hours later, Trump tweeted his own headline of the report in all capital letters: "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 the Seychelles was an effort to establish a back channel to the Kremlin.

It also contradicts the preliminary findings of committee Democrats like ranking member Adam Schiff of California, who told reporters last month that based on what he had seen, there was "ample evidence" of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

In a statement Monday night, Schiff said the sight-unseen report was a "tragic milestone" and a "capitulation to the executive branch."

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 on 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.

On Monday, Schiff excoriated House Republicans for ending the panel's probe before Mueller's team or the other congressional panels looking at Russian interference have finished their work. Schiff predicted that "Republicans will be held accountable for abandoning a critical investigation of such vital national importance" if new information arises from future indictments and other reports.

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, arguing that Trump might eventually want to invoke executive privilege.

In a written statement, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro who serves on the committee, said Russia interfered with the 2016 election.

"Our inability to identify and foresee Moscow's intentions was a severe intelligence failure, and further stagnation in this investigation will hinder our ability to protect and defend ourselves from the same threats," he said.

The draft report, he said, "includes critical recommendations for election security, cyber-attack response, and counterintelligence practices related to political campaigns, and I urge all parties to review, comment, and adopt."


The public will not see the report until Democrats have reviewed it and the intelligence community has decided what information can become public, a process that could take weeks. Conaway said the report would likely not be released to the public before April.

In addition to the statement on coordination with Russians, the draft picks apart a central assessment made by the U.S. intelligence community shortly after the 2016 election -- that Russian meddling in the campaign was intended to help Trump and oppose Democrat Hillary Clinton. Committee aides said they spent hundreds of hours reviewing raw source material used by the intelligence services to make that claim and that it did not meet the appropriate standards.

Conaway said there will be a second report just dealing with the intelligence assessment and its credibility.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement soon after the GOP announcement Monday, saying it stood by the intelligence community's findings. Spokesman Brian Hale said the office will review the findings of the committee's report.

According to Conaway, the report will agree with the intelligence assessment on most details, including that Russians did meddle in the election. It will detail Russian cyberattacks on U.S. institutions during the election and the use of social media to sow discord. It will also show a pattern of Russian attacks on European allies -- information that could be redacted in the final report. It will blame officials in former President Barack Obama's administration for a "lackluster" response and look at leaks from the intelligence community to the media.

The report is also expected to turn the subject of collusion toward the Clinton campaign, saying an anti-Trump dossier compiled by a former British spy and paid for by Democrats was one way that Russians tried to influence the election. Conaway did not suggest that Clinton knowingly coordinated with the Russians but said the dossier clearly "would have hurt him and helped her."

Conaway said the committee would continue to investigate allegations of surveillance abuse the GOP highlighted in a memo earlier this year. The panel also would continue to examine allegations of "unmasking," he added, noting claims that the Obama administration improperly revealed the names of people and corporations in surveillance reports. Democrats have objected to both investigations.

"Even while they close down the Russia investigation, they plan to continue trying to put our own government on trial," Schiff said. "This is a great service to the President, and a profound disservice to the country."

Schiff said the panel's Democrats would continue aspects of the investigation "with or without the active participation of the majority."

Information for this article was contributed by Mary Clare Jalonick and Chad Day of The Associated Press; by Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post; and by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 03/13/2018