By Miriam Raftery
March 20, 2018 (Washington D.C.) – In direct conflict to warnings from top U.S. intelligence agency representatives, The House Intelligence Committee’s Republican majority shut down its investigation and issued an overview of its report which concluded that Russia’s election hacking and social media attacks were merely intended to cause discord, not help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. The GOP report also concluded that that it found no “evidence of coordination, collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russians. “
Credibility of that report, however, has been called into serious question not only by the committee’s Democrats, who, in a 21-page report of their own, accuse Republicans of whitewashing facts by refusing to interview or subpoena key witnesses and documents, but also prominent Republicans and a prominent military leader. In effect, they didn’t find evidence of collusion because they refused to look for it in the places most likely to provide the evidence.
The majority’s findings also ignore the 19 indictments and guilty pleas obtained by special prosecutor Robert Mueller so far in his investigation. That includes 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of directly interfering in the 2016 election and two ex-Trump advisors who lied to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. Most recently, Mueller has subpoenaed financial records of Trump’s companies and is seeking to next interview the President himself. Some Trump properties have faced allegations of laundering money for Russian organized crime, as the founder of Fusion GPS testified before the House Intelligence Committee that now claims there is no collusion, U.S. News reported.
The Democrats’ report lists 30 key witnesses that the Committee refused to interview, despite requests from Democrats to do so, ranging from fired FBI director James Comey to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials in a meeting about which parties lied to the FBI.
Plus, Democrats list 15 persons and entities for which they believe subpoenas should be issued to compel them to testify, after the witnesses refused to appear or refused to answer questions. That witness list reads like a who’s who of prominent Trump associates and family members including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Erik Prince, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, attorney Michael Cohen, and White house spokesperson Hope Hicks.
Even more shocking, the committee deferred interviewing direct targets of the Mueller probe including retired General Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. Flynn, the President's former National Security Advisor, and former Trump aide Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying about their contacts with Russian investigators. Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and his associate Rick Gates face serious charges including conspiracy against the U.S., money laundering and tax fraud related to their work for a Russia-affiliated political party in the Ukraine. The committee’s majority also refused to subpoena phone and other communication records related to that Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering up dirt to the Trump campaign on his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats' report also identifies over 20 entities from which the Committee failed to request documents including social media companies, Deutsch Bank, the Russian American Chamber of Commerce and more. The committee showed zero interest in talking with Russians purportedly involved in election system hacking or companies running Russian “troll farms” posting fake news on social media that clearly sought to sway American voters.
This week, retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey tweeted, “Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to U.S. national security. He is refusing to protect U.S. interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that he is for some unknown reason under the sway of Mr. Putin.” McCaffrey cited Trump’s refusal to side with Britain over the poisoning death of a double agent murdered on British soil with a toxin known to be produced in Russia.
Trump continues to attack Mueller, tweeting last week that “the Russia investigation is a total WITCH HUNT” while his lawyer, John Dowd, called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to “bring an end” to the Mueller probe. Meanwhile Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Andrew McCabe, former FBI director, on the eve of his retirement; McCabe has been overseeing the investigation at the Justice Department into the Trump-Russia matters since the firing of former FBI director James Comey for reportedly refusing to agree to a loyalty pledge demanded by Trump, a claim Trump has denied.
Trump has claimed McCabe was biased because McCabe’s wife, a Democrat, ran for the Virginia Legislature and took campaign donations from a Clinton supporter. However, McCabe is a registered Republican, was put in charge of overseeing the Trump-Russian investigation only after his wife lost her election bid, and sought ethics and legal advice from the FBI before agreeing to accept the role. Among other things, he was involved in a decision to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump advisor. The Trump Justice Dept. approve the wiretap, which a federal judge approved based on evidence that Page “was a Russian agent,” the New York Times reported.
Trump’s Twitter attacks have led to speculation that Trump may seek to fire Mueller. Yet Republican leaders in Congress have failed to allow a vote on bipartisan legislation that would prevent Trump from axing Mueller. While Trump cannot dismiss Mueller directly, he could replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from matters related to the Trump-Russia investigation, and have a replacement do the firing.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Senate’s most senior Republican, warned that firing Mueller would be the “stupidest thing” the President could do, but declined to support legislation to prevent such action.
Similarly, Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said he was disappointed in House Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to denounce Trump’s attacks on Mueller, but said he didn’t think legislation was needed since the White House continues to maintain that Trump is not considering firing the special prosecutor. This line of reasoning ignores the fact that the same claim was made about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just weeks before Trump fired Tillerson.
Among California Republicans, reactions to the latest twists in the Trump-Russia scandal have been mixed.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa stated, “"At a time that the bureau needs to have confidence built up into it, it was the right move," LaMalfa said of McCabe's firing.”
Congresswoman Mimi Walters, however, stated, “The investigation into Russian meddling in our elections must continue until all the facts are known, and we can better protect ourselves from further interference. I have faith that the special prosecutor and Justice Department will continue to conduct a fair and thorough investigation. I believe they should be allowed to continue their important work.“
San Diego Congressmen Duncan D. Hunter and Darryl Issa have remained silent on the matter, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Those accusing media of disseminating “fake news” should take account of the mounting body of evidence that makes it ludicrous to suggest that there has been no collusion or conspiracy between Russians and Trump operatives, when the key House committee charged with determining the truth has opted not to compel testimony from key witnesses or subpoena documents that might confirm or exonerate the President and those around him.
Meanwhile, some prominent news editors believe they have seen enough evidence to believe it credible that Russia did seek to influence our elections and prevent the election of Clinton, who took a hardline against Russia as Secretary of State during the Obama administration.
USA Today editorial page editor Bill Sternberg writes, “The more we learn about Russia’s role in America’s elections, the more the commonly used description of it — meddling — seems inadequate.” He notes that media didn’t refer to the Watergate break-in as meddling, nor the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Russian effort was a “a sophisticated plot involving millions of dollars and hundreds of saboteurs,” he concludes in an editorial documenting the details—and questioning why the President has shown little interest in holding Russia accountable for its actions or taking steps to prevent Russian attacks during future elections.
Meanwhile separate investigations continue in the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees.