Republicans on House Intelligence Panel Absolve Trump Campaign in Russian Meddling

A polling place in the Bronx in November 2016. The House Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference includes a range of recommendations for protecting ballots.

WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee declared in a 250-page report on Friday that their yearlong investigation uncovered no evidence that the Trump campaign had aided Russia’s election meddling, only ill-advised contacts between campaign aides and Russian officials or their intermediaries.

The Republicans took aim at what they called the misjudgments of Democrats and others even as they sought to play down the seriousness of mistakes by or suspicions about Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. They faulted aides to Hillary Clinton for secretly paying for opposition research that included information from Russian sources, and castigated federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies for failing to counter Russian interference as well as for purported investigative abuses and allegedly damaging national security leaks.

In a nearly 100-page dissenting document, Democrats on the Intelligence Committee described the Republicans’ report as little more than a whitewash. The eagerness of Trump campaign aides to accept offers of Russian assistance, they said, suggests “a consciousness of wrongfulness, if not illegality.” The Democrats complained that the committee failed to pursue obvious leads, interview important witnesses or investigate crucial lines of inquiry.

The opposing conclusions closed a tumultuous chapter for a congressional committee that is charged with oversight of American spy agencies, but fractured into warring camps whose primary mission often seemed to be advancing their own political agendas. The results diminished hopes that Congress, which has mounted two similar investigations, is likely to get to the bottom of Russia’s attempts to influence the election.

[Read the report.]

In the charged political climate that has engulfed Washington, Mr. Trump and his allies immediately seized on the Republicans’ report — the first by a government body — as a useful political tool against continuing investigations, including that of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The president extolled the Republicans’ conclusions on Twitter, saying the entire investigative effort, involving interviews with dozens of witnesses and the review of hundreds of pages of documents, had been nothing but “a total Witch Hunt!”

“MUST END NOW!” he added. He later told reporters in the Oval Office he was “honored” by the report.

While the bulk of the Republican document covered familiar ground, it contained intriguing new details about interactions between Russian officials or intermediaries and Trump associates, including Michael T. Flynn, who served briefly as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. It disclosed, for example, that before traveling to Moscow in December 2015, Mr. Flynn and his son met privately with Sergey I. Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, at his Washington residence. Mr. Flynn’s son later emailed the Russian Embassy that the meeting had been “very productive.”

In a newly disclosed June 2016 email, Mr. Flynn also seemed to give a Trump campaign aide a preview of the release of stolen emails that would prove highly damaging to the Clinton campaign. “There are a number of things happening (and will happen) this election via cyber operations (by both hacktivists, nation states and the DNC),” he wrote to an unnamed communications adviser.

Mr. Flynn sent that email after disclosures that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by Russian operatives but before WikiLeaks began releasing the stolen emails.

But the committee never interviewed Mr. Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador during the transition and is now cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s team. For the most part, the Republicans cast communications between Trump associates and Russian officials or intermediaries as simply misguided.

“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,” the Republicans wrote.

In one finding — mocked by the Democrats as particularly convoluted — the Republicans asserted that “possible Russian efforts to set up a ‘back channel’ with Trump associates after the election” indicated campaign officials did not collude with Russians because otherwise a back channel would have already existed.

The Republicans criticized the Obama administration for a “slow and inconsistent” response to Russia’s covert interference. They faulted the F.B.I. for failing to properly notify victims of Russian hacking and for obtaining a warrant to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. They also said that American officials should have warned the Trump campaign about Mr. Page’s ties to Russia, even though Mr. Page was under investigation by the F.B.I. at the time and such a disclosure would have been highly unusual.

Even the Republicans, however, raised questions about Mr. Page’s Russia trip in July 2016. Although Mr. Page did not represent the campaign on that trip, the lawmakers said, “the committee is concerned about his seemingly incomplete accounts of his activity in Moscow.”

The Republicans accused the intelligence agencies of failing to use “proper analytic tradecraft” as they crafted a key conclusion of a January 2017 assessment of the Russian campaign. In the portion in question, intelligence officials had concluded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia wanted to harm Mrs. Clinton and aid Mr. Trump. The Republican report does not explicitly contest that conclusion but implies that the Russians’ primary intention was to sow discord, not to help Mr. Trump.

And they admonished Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee for hiring Fusion GPS, a research firm, to investigate ties between Trump associates and Russia. The firm in turn hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy, who produced a salacious dossier outlining a conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians based, in part, on Russian sources.

“They were very forceful in saying that the Clinton campaign actually did contribute to Russia, so maybe somebody ought to look at that,” Mr. Trump said at the White House, underscoring the political opportunity the report handed him. “But what we really should do is get on with our lives.”

Democrats accused the Republicans of “often risible attempts to explain away inconvenient truths” while turning a blind eye to obvious leads.

For example, the Democrats were eager to determine whether in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. had called his father to discuss his coming meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who was supposed to deliver dirt on Mrs. Clinton. But they said that Republicans stymied their efforts to obtain the phone records for the president while he was a candidate, so a call from Donald Trump Jr. to a blocked number remained a mystery.

“The pattern of deception surrounding these meetings — first denying they took place; then, when discovered, denying their content; and then denying their significance — suggests a consciousness of wrongfulness, if not illegality,” the Democrats wrote of the Trump campaign.

They complained that the Republicans refused to expand the investigation to look at whether the president or his aides had obstructed justice or abused their power, despite “important evidence” before the committee.

The Democrats also disputed the Republicans’ claims about the January 2017 intelligence assessment. They said that the Republicans cited no evidence to support their claim of improper tradecraft and that Democrats’ own review showed that the analysis met standards. Information that has become public since has only clarified Mr. Putin’s intention to help Mr. Trump, they said.

They also dismissed an assertion by Republicans that Mr. Trump’s business dealings with Russia before the 2016 campaign provided no basis for collusion. The Republicans would have no way of reaching such a conclusion, they Democrats said, because they never studied Mr. Trump’s pre-campaign business dealings.

The lawmakers split deeply over whether James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, had leaked sensitive information to the news media. Republicans said Mr. Clapper gave “inconsistent testimony” about his contacts with a reporter about Mr. Steele’s dossier; Democrats accused Republicans of trying to “smear” Mr. Clapper without a shred of evidence.

Republicans had releasedkey findings from the report in March. The full report, heavily redacted by the intelligence agencies, includes recommendations on issues as diverse as cyber and election security, as well as a call for the executive branch to consider administering mandatory polygraph tests to political appointees with top-secret security clearances unless they are confirmed by the Senate.

Though they absolved the Trump campaign, the Republicans warned that Mr. Putin’s government would be back unless the United States mounted significant efforts to deter his agents.

“Unless the cost-benefit equation of such operations changes significantly, the Putin regime and other hostile governments will continue to pursue these attacks against the United States and its allies,” they wrote. On that point, the Democrats agreed.

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