Friday September 21st, 2018 5:35PM

House Democrats cite 'evidence' of Trump-Russia collusion

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are sharply disagreeing with Republicans on the panel who say they don't see any evidence of collusion or coordination between President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, said Tuesday that he believes there is "significant evidence" of collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia, though he couldn't say if there was criminal wrongdoing.

Republicans on the committee announced Monday that they'd completed a draft report and they saw no evidence of collusion. Schiff, who saw the GOP report for the first time on Tuesday, said Democrats on the committee would try to continue the investigation where possible and would write their own report to lay out conclusions from the intelligence panel's yearlong investigation into Russian meddling.

The GOP report "misleadingly characterizes events, and paints a portrait and tells a story that could not have been better written if it was written in the White House itself," Schiff said.

Trump enthusiastically praised the draft Republican report, telling reporters Tuesday morning that the White House is "very, very happy" with the GOP conclusions.

"It was a powerful decision that left no doubt and I want to thank the House intelligence committee," Trump said.

Democrats have said for some time that they believed Republicans weren't conducting a serious investigation. Schiff on Tuesday released a 22-page report detailing threads that Democrats still believe the committee should pursue and witnesses they still want to hear from. Those include White House officials, campaign officials and people in the intelligence community.

As examples of evidence of coordination, Schiff cited multiple contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia, including a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 and information passed on to an Australian diplomat by a former Trump campaign aide, George Papadopolous, that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Schiff said Democrats would try to release all committee interview transcripts in their report. He also signaled that he would reopen or begin certain lines of inquiry if Democrats retake the majority of the House this November.

Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican leading the Russia probe, previewed some of the GOP report's findings on Monday, but said the public will not see the full document until Democrats have reviewed it and the intelligence community has decided what information can be released, a process that could take weeks.

"We found no evidence of collusion," Conaway said, suggesting that those who believe there was collusion are reading too many spy novels. "We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings. But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, or meetings or whatever, and weave that into sort of a fiction page-turner, spy thriller."

In addition to the statement on coordination with Russians, Republicans said the draft challenges an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, waged a covert influence campaign to interfere in the election with the goal of hurting Clinton's candidacy and helping Trump's campaign.

House Intelligence Committee officials said they spent hundreds of hours reviewing raw source material used by the intelligence services in the assessment and that it did not meet the appropriate standards to make the claim about helping Trump. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the intelligence material.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement soon after the GOP announcement, saying it stood by the intelligence community's findings.

Conaway appeared to walk that conclusion back a bit on Tuesday, saying it was clear that the Russians intended to hurt Clinton and make her a less effective president, if she won.

"Whether or not they were trying to hurt Hillary, help Trump, whatever it is — it's kind of the glass half full, glass half empty," Conaway said.

Conaway said there will be a second report just dealing with the intelligence assessment and its credibility.

According to Conaway, the GOP report will agree with the intelligence assessment on most other details, including that Russians did meddle in the election. It will detail Russian cyberattacks on U.S. institutions during the election and the use of social media to sow discord. It will also show a pattern of Russian attacks on European allies — information that could be redacted in the final report. It will blame officials in former President Barack Obama's administration for a "lackluster" response and look at leaks from the intelligence community to the media.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating the Russian intervention, is expected to have a more bipartisan report out in the coming weeks dealing with election security. The Senate panel is expected to issue findings on the more controversial issue of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia at a later date.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, also investigating the meddling, is expected to release transcripts soon of closed-door interviews with several people who attended the 2016 meeting between the Trump campaign and Russians. It's unclear if the Judiciary panel will produce a final report.

The congressional investigations are completely separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal probe into Trump campaign ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice, which is likely to take much longer. So far, Mueller has charged nearly 20 people as part of his investigation, including three Trump associates who have pleaded guilty.

House Democrats signaled they were pinning their hopes on the Senate, and on Mueller.

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said they will continue to try to probe the meddling, but "we also hope the Senate investigation will go further, will get out more to the American people, and then of course special counsel Mueller will do his job."

___

Associated Press writers Chad Day and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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