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By Karoun Demirjian,
The leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation seemed to back off Tuesday from the most surprising finding in the GOP’s report that Russia was not trying to help President Trump as the panel’s top Democrat trashed the product as a political gift to the White House.
Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) told reporters Tuesday that “it’s clear [Russian officials] were trying to hurt Hillary [Clinton]” by interfering in the 2016 election, and that “everybody gets to make up their own mind whether they were trying to hurt Hillary, help Trump, it’s kind of glass half-full, glass half-empty.”
That equivalence stands in sharp contrast to the conclusions of a 150-page, GOP-drafted report Conaway that announced to the news media on Monday that concludes that the intelligence community “didn’t meet the standards” of proof necessary to determine that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump.
When it comes to determining whether Russia interfered to hurt clinton or help Trump, “you can pitch that either way,” Conaway said Tuesday.
His comments came after other panel Republicans, including Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.) gave interviews in which they stressed that there was evidence that Russia had tried to damage Clinton’s candidacy.
The report’s findings on Russia’s intentions in interfering is just one area of the document with which Democrats on the panel took issue Tuesday after being presented with it in the morning.
The panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who called the report “not a serious work,” said the document was proof that Republicans were willing only to “go through the motions of an investigation . . . to give the pretense of trying to find the truth.”
Schiff added that the report was “little more than another Nunes memo in long form,” likening it to the four-page document that the panel’s GOP members, led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), put out this year alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice engaged in “surveillance abuses” to monitor the activities of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Democrats accused Republicans of using the Nunes memo to undermine the Russia investigation — a charge they also applied to Tuesday’s GOP report.
Schiff and other Democrats on the committee released a 22-page “status update” Tuesday night, listing the various witnesses, firms and documents that the panel had declined to subpoena or otherwise examine, and the reasons that each would be relevant to the investigation. It also lays out areas of inquiry that the minority members say the GOP abandoned by terminating the probe earlier than they would have liked.
“There were leads and investigative paths on, from my perspective, three different and major significant areas: first, on collusion, second, on money laundering, and third, on obstruction of justice,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democratic panel member from Texas. “At this point the majority has chosen to ignore those.”
Democratic committee members pledged to forge ahead with the investigation and eventually issue their own report, although they do not have the ability to subpoena witnesses and other information without the panel chairman’s buy-in.
They reserved special vitriol for the GOP’s decision not to more aggressively pursue uncooperative witnesses such as former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, whom Conaway had previously considered holding in contempt.
“The majority has decided they would rather shut down the investigation than find out the answers to the questions we had for Stephen K. Bannon,” Schiff said. “This majority doesn’t want to know the answers, and it has set a precedent now that will affect future Congresses’ ability to get answers from the executive.”