5 Takeaways From the House Report on Russian Election Meddling
Posted April 27, 2018 8:45 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee on Friday released the results of its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, and Democrats issued a dissenting report. The accounts reached dueling interpretations of a litany of information about contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians.
Here are five takeaways:
— No Evidence of Collusion, or a Failure to Search for It?
One after another, the Republican report explains away links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. It declares that the committee “did not find any evidence of collusion, conspiracy, or coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians. While the committee found that several of the contacts between Trump associates and Russians — or their proxies, including WikiLeaks — were ill advised, the committee did not determine that Trump or anyone associated with him assisted Russia’s active measures campaign.”
But in their dissent, Democrats argued that the Republicans’ conclusion was not credible. They said the investigation ended prematurely, and they accused Republicans of failing to interview key witnesses, to force others to answer questions or to subpoena important documents. “As with so many of the majority’s findings, the majority did not uncover evidence because it refused look for any,” the Democratic report said.
— Russia Didn’t Want Trump to Win, or Did It?
The intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government carried out an influence campaign targeting the 2016 election, and the House committee largely agreed. But its majority raised doubts about one key finding of intelligence agencies: that the Russian government wanted to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, rather than just to sow discord.
Those “judgments regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic objectives for disrupting the U.S. election,” the Republicans wrote, “failed to meet longstanding standards.” But they offered no analysis or evidence supporting that claim, instead alluding vaguely to still-classified matters and saying the committee would put out additional material later.
In their dissent, Democrats pointed out that many of the social-media messages Russians had disseminated lauded Trump or were damaging to Democrats, as was the hacking and release of Democratic emails. They also said they had reviewed the same still-classified materials that Republicans had and asserted that they did not support the Republican findings. They suggested that the Republicans were trying to sow doubt about the intelligence community’s “credibility and reliability on this matter and perhaps to appeal to President Trump.”
— Some Right-Wing Takes Get a Congressional Imprimatur, but Not All of Them
The Republican report echoed several talking points circling among Trump’s allies on conservative news and opinion outlets. For example, the report dovetails with the script-flipping narrative that a dossier alleging complicity between Trump associates and Russia compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, was itself a Russian plot. “The committee is concerned with the degree to which the Kremlin may have sought to influence information that was ultimately provided to Steele,” the Republicans wrote.
However, the Republicans rejected a conspiracy theory that has been promoted by some of Trump’s key allies: the notion that WikiLeaks obtained Democratic National Committee emails not from Russian hackers but from Seth Rich, a staff member of the Democratic National Committee who was murdered in Washington in July 2016. WikiLeaks published the emails, and Fox News commentator Sean Hannity and others promoted the theory that they came from Rich, not Russia.
But the majority report said that the intelligence case for attributing the email theft to Russians was “significant” and that it had found “no credible evidence,” including in still-classified intelligence reports, supporting the alternative theory of “an insider.”
— Pro-Trump Statements Are Portrayed as Credible and His Opponents With Skepticism
The Republican report was often skeptical in tone about statements and testimony by people who put forward information that could be damaging to Trump, and more credulous about statements in his favor. For example, when discussing Steele, the Republican report uses suspicious terms, like saying he “claimed” to have obtained his allegations from “purported” high-level Russian sources. But when discussing testimony by witnesses who explained away various meetings with Russians, the report instead presents what they said with neutral terms, like “stated,” or uses words connoting the idea that they were acknowledging a truth.
One example of that concerns testimony by Rob Goldstone, who helped set up the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials and Russians. He wrote in an email to Donald Trump Jr. that the visitors wanted to provide damaging information about Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” But Goldstone later told Congress that he had no evidence supporting that statement, saying he had embellished his email with inaccurate information to get a response. The report says Goldstone “admitted” this exonerating account.
— An Attack on Leaks, and James Clapper
The Republican report is scathing about leaks to the news media that have brought to light various information about Trump-Russia contacts. Against that backdrop, it declares that James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, gave “inconsistent testimony” about his discussions of the Steele dossier with CNN anchor Jake Tapper. (Many news outlets had copies of the dossier but did not report on its existence because they were unable to verify its contents. But in January 2017, CNN reported that intelligence officials had briefed Trump, then the president-elect, about the dossier, and BuzzFeed published it shortly after.)
The Republican report said that Clapper initially denied discussing the dossier with journalists but subsequently “acknowledged” having discussed it with Tapper and “admitted” possibly talking about it with other reporters, too. The Democratic report portrays this passage as written to “smear” Clapper with a “dark insinuation,” saying it promotes a “narrative that former Obama administration officials, such as Clapper, leaked classified or sensitive information to the media.” The Democratic report notes that the dossier was not classified.
It also provides an excerpt from a transcript of Clapper’s testimony. It shows that he was asked whether he had discussed the dossier or intelligence related to Russia without journalists and replied “no.” But then, asked whether he confirmed or corroborated the dossier’s contents to Tapper, Clapper acknowledged discussing the dossier with Tapper but said that was “when it was out all over the place.” The transcript is ambiguous about whether that meant they discussed it before or after CNN reported the briefing.