GOP eyes end of Russia probes with Trump collusion unanswered – Politico
Republican lawmakers say they’re approaching the end of their investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election even though the most politically explosive issue — whether associates of President Donald Trump colluded with the Kremlin — remains unresolved.
That will present Democrats who have spent a year amplifying suspicions about Trump’s own ties to Russia with a wrenching choice: to join Republicans and set aside the most momentous aspect of their probes — or to break from the GOP and end any chance of presenting a united front against a continuing Russian threat.
Story Continued Below
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has suggested his panel’s investigation will end early next year, emphasizing that he wants to wrap up by February, ahead ofthe first 2018 primary elections.
His panel still has a long list of witnesses to interview, but Burr described the timeline as a “mathematical equation,” one pitting the ability of the committee to schedule meetings against the calendar. And he’s hinted it’s possible the report will find no evidence of collusion between Trump allies and Moscow.
“If there’s evidence that there was something there, that will be laid out. If there’s no evidence, how could anybody object to it?” Burr said.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who’s leading the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe, told POLITICO this week that he hopes to finish before the Senate.
Conaway said he intends to seek a meeting with Burr, as well as the House and Senate committees’ top Democrats — Rep. Adam Schiff of California and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia — to sketch out their panels’ conclusions and attempt to generally align their reports. Wildly divergent conclusions, he said, could “embarrass the institution” and could send mixed messages about the urgency of the Russian threat.
Schiff said in an interview that he agrees with Conaway on the need for a meeting of the four committee leaders as well as his drive to come to a unified bipartisan conclusion.
“I think, frankly, it would be a good idea for the four of us to be collaborating as we go along rather than wait until the conclusion of our investigation,” Schiff said. “I second Mike’s suggestion and actually think it would be worthwhile.”
But a kumbaya moment may be wishful thinking when it comes to questions about collusion.
In the House, and possibly the Senate as well,bringing the Russia probes to a close is likely to trigger a partisan showdown.
Some Republicans on the committees have publicly dismissed allegations that Trump allies might have helped Russia’s interference campaign. They’ve seen no conclusive evidence suggesting collusion occurred, and they’re weary after interviewing scores of witnesses who they say have shed little new light on the matter.
“We’ve hit the point of diminishing returns long ago,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho.) “We’ve looked at lots of stuff. At some point in time, the jury needs to reach a verdict.”
Warner didn’t rule out the possibility of a meeting with Burr, Conaway and Schiff, though he dismissed as “preliminary” an effort to stave off a partisan splintering.
“We’re still operating in a very collaborative fashion,” Warner said in an interview.
Democrats, though, seem increasingly resigned to the fact that their probes may end without a conclusion on whether any Americans aided the Russian interference effort.
“It’s quite possible that six months from now, there will be unanswered questions that we can’t answer because the people we would need to answer those questions are in Russia,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “The probability that we’re going to produce a report that buttons down every question is pretty low.”
Warner has said he’d readily accept it if the Senate investigation finds no evidence of collusion.
“[I]f there’s not something there, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that,” the Virginia Democrat told The New York Times this week.
The painful choice for Democrats is whether to attempt to forge a fragile compromise with Republicans that depictswhat both parties generally agree on: that Russia orchestrated a massive interference campaign to undermine U.S. politics and stoke intense division. That would likely mean abandoning a definitive determination on collusion — or punting to special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s leading a criminal probe of possible crimes connected to the Russian plot.
But even Democratic unity on those questions may be challenging.
“I’m not signing on to any report unless it’s a bipartisan report,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a member of the intelligence panel, said in an interview.
Manchin also disputed the notion that “we’re going to be that far apart” in the end.
“It’s up to us to come together and say, ‘OK, we agree,'” he added.
Schiff and fellow California Rep. Eric Swalwell, two of the most outspoken House Intelligence Committee Democrats, say they too hope for unity but emphasized that despite the absence of a smoking gun, they’ve seen compelling evidence of Trump allies’ “intent to collude.”
“We may not find the crime on videotape, but I believe we have already seen evidence of intent,” Swalwell said. “But our investigation is ongoing and we haven’t reached a conclusion.”
Swalwell pointed to a slew of storylines in which figures in Trump’s orbit contacted Kremlin-associated Russians. There’s the secret meeting with Kremlin-connected Russians that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., organized in Trump Tower ostensibly to obtain documents unfavorable to Hillary Clinton, as well asattempts by two Trump business associates to seek Kremlin help for a Trump Tower development in Moscow just as the presidential campaign was beginning in earnest.
There also are lingering questions about Trump’s first pick for national security adviser, Mike Flynn, and allegations he secretly assured Russia’s ambassador that Trump would lift Obama-imposed sanctions on Russia. And there’s the mysterious admission by a GOP operative, who claimed connections to the Trump campaign, that he sought help from Russians to expose thousands of emails deleted from Clinton’s private server.
“We’ve certainly seen evidence of an intention by the Trump campaign to collude with the Russians,” Schiff said. “I would hope that, at the end of the day, we’ll come to a common conclusion on that as well. I think it’s too early to say.”
Himes noted that new twists seem to emerge constantly, pointing to a Daily Beast report this week that a Trump campaign data firm, Cambridge Analytica, acknowledged approaching WikiLeaks to try to procure Clinton’s deleted emails.
Schiff, who complained in a recent Washington Post op-ed that the White House was pressuring Congress to conclude its Russia probes, may also find allies among Senate Democrats who say there’s still a long way to go before they’ll feel satisfied they turned over every rock in the investigation.
“I want to get actionable items in place that can secure our voting infrastructure by” the time that primaries begin next year, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said in an interview. “But I think we should follow the investigation where it takes us, irrespective of the timeframe.”
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, also suggested he would have trouble signing on to any final report that left the collusion matter unresolved. “The report has to be comprehensive,” King said in a brief interview.
How Republicans approach the issue of collusion, too, could determine whether Democrats join them.
Barring any dramatic new evidence, Republicans like Rep. Peter King of New York would like to plainly state that lawmakers found “no evidence” of collusion. But they worry that might turn off some Democrats.
“They’re too committed,” King said. “They’re so dug in on this.”
Powered by WPeMatico