Good Riddance to the Craven, Dishonest, Deeply Stupid House Russia Investigation

Rep. Mike Conaway speaks to the media after attending a meeting with House GOP members.
Rep. Mike Conaway speaks to the media after attending a meeting with House GOP members.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Republican majority of the House Intelligence Committee announced on Monday that it was ending its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and would be issuing a number of findings favorable to President Donald Trump. The announcement—made without the knowledge of the Democratic members—contradicted the assessment of career officials and analysts in the intelligence community and confirmed that the committee never intended to do the job it was tasked with doing. It was a fitting end to a sham inquiry, one in which Republican leaders cravenly renounced their obligation to protect our country.

A one-page summary of the committee’s upcoming draft report absolves Trump and his campaign of collusion charges and disputes the intelligence community’s findings “with respect to Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump.” The findings were so premature and ludicrous that one of the GOP members who publicly backed the majority’s work contradicted that central conclusion in a television interview on Monday night, appearing not to know what was in the draft report he was supposed to be signing off on.

When told of the report’s finding that the Russians meddled in the election, but not to help Trump, Florida Rep. Tom Rooney expressed disbelief that such a blatantly partisan finding could possibly be in his own report. “I think it’s far more objective than that,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett during an astonishing interview “I just don’t know where this conclusion is coming from that we have concluded that we don’t see anything that the Russians were intending to hurt Hillary and help Trump.”

Where this conclusion came from, as Rooney should understand, is an unscrupulous committee that has done its work in total secrecy. “We disagree with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump,” the Republican leader of the House committee, Texas Rep. K. Michael Conaway, told reporters on Monday.

That narrative is supported by an intelligence report from Jan. 6, 2017—days before Trump took office—in which the Office of the Director of National Intelligence noted that Russia had indeed “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s chances of victory.” On Monday, the current office of the DNI, led by Trump appointee Dan Coates, announced it was “stand[ing] by its January 2017 assessment.”

When asked again if he disagreed with that finding, Rooney said “not at all.”

“Certainly we’ve seen a lot of evidence and propaganda over the last year that shows that the Russians were trying to damage Hillary Clinton,” he told CNN, again contradicting the conclusions of his own committee’s report.

Just last month, special counsel Robert Mueller unveiled an indictment against 13 Russian individuals and three companies describing reams of evidence that they had sought to support Trump and damage Clinton through a social media propaganda campaign. That investigation is also reportedly gathering evidence about Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee and attempts to release emails damaging to Clinton.

Rooney’s confusion underlines what a patently partisan farce the committee became under chairman Devin Nunes, who has consistently sought to transform the group into a public relations arm of the Trump White House. Just under a year ago, Nunes handed the reins of the investigation to Conaway and others after he was shown to be acting as a conduit for the delivery of White House talking points meant to bolster Trump’s slanderous accusation that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.” After a House ethics investigation cleared him in December of releasing classified information as part of that episode, Nunes came back to the committee. Upon his return, he released a memo smearing Justice Department officials which Trump’s own FBI called misleading.

Nunes, who served as part of Trump’s transition team, has attempted to divert the House committee’s investigation from day one. Early in the investigation, he vigorously defended former Trump aides who have since been indicted or pled guilty to serious crimes, such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. At one of the committee’s earliest meetings, held one year ago next week, he called the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had supported his party “preposterous.”

It was a preview of Monday’s announcement and demonstrated the obvious extent to which Nunes had prejudged the investigation. Ahead of that March 2017 hearing, Nunes previewed another one of the committee’s findings, saying there was no evidence of collusion. Since then, a whole lot of such evidence has emerged. This includes Donald Trump Jr.’s email with Russian cutouts saying he would “love” information that would “incriminate Hillary”—information that was offered as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” It also includes the subsequent meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Manafort and Russians who were promising that incriminating material on Clinton, as well as Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos’ contacts with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton available in “thousands of emails.”

On Monday, Conaway casually dismissed this damning evidence as “inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever.”

In his own response, the ranking Democratic member on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, explained that the majority refused to “subpoena documents like phone records, text messages, bank records and other key records so that we might determine the truth.” Schiff added, “The Majority was not willing to pursue the facts wherever they would lead, would prove afraid to compel witnesses like Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump Jr., Corey Lewandowski and so many others to answer questions relevant to our investigation.”

As the New York Times reported, the committee chose not to call other key witnesses. Trump Jr., who has repeatedly lied about his knowledge of Russia’s determination to help his father’s campaign, stonewalled the committee by citing attorney-client privilege in refusing to discuss conversations with the president. Rather than subpoena Trump Jr. and other hostile witnesses, the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee decided to just take their word for it.

The committee closed its investigation as we’re learning more about various questionable episodes, such as a recently reported meeting in the Seychelles between Trump representative Erik Prince and a key Putin ally that may have been meant to set up a backchannel between Trump’s transition team and Russia. If we get to the truth about any of this, it won’t because of the House Intelligence Committee. “If the Russians do have leverage over the President of the United States, the Majority has simply decided it would rather not know,” Schiff said.

That will be the legacy of Nunes and other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee: When they were called on to uncover the truth about Russia and the Trump campaign, they chose to abnegate their duty. Good riddance to an investigation that was equal parts dishonest and pointless.

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Jeremy Stahl is a Slate senior editor.