The House Intelligence Committee has interviewed its final witness in a year-long investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, bringing to a close an inquiry marked by hostility, partisan distraction and little progress toward solving the extent of the Russian scheme.
The Republican leading the investigation, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), announced on Monday that last week’s session with Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, was the final witness interview of the investigation. The investigation included an examination of whether associates of President Donald Trump assisted the Russian effort, but Republicans say they’ve concluded that there was no cooperation.
“We will now be moving into the next phase of this investigation, working with the minority on a report to give the American people answers to the questions they’ve been asking for over a year,” Conaway said in a statement. “With the 2018 primary elections already underway and just 238 days until the midterm elections in November, it’s important that we give the American people the information they need to arm themselves against Russian attempts to influence our elections.”
The Republican report — which has yet to be shared with Democrats on the committee — differs from the intelligence community’s assessment last year that the Russian effort was intended to boost Trump’s campaign and harm Hillary Clinton's.
Rather, the GOP’s 150-page report finds that Russians intended to “sow discord,” faulted a “lackluster” effort by the Obama administration to combat Russian cyber activities, and raised questions about contacts between members of the intelligence community and the media.
Democrats have sharply disagreed with that suggestion, and they’re expected to produce a report with a different conclusion in the coming weeks. All told, the committee’s work is likely produce competing narratives that do little to resolve the white-hot worries about Russia’s capacity to interfere in future elections.
In recent days, several Republican members of the panel had been openly calling to bring the investigation to a close, frustrated by the ceaseless tension on the panel, leaks from witness interviews and a climate of mistrust that had harmed the committee’s historical ability to function in a bipartisan way. Democrats, though, have insisted that Republicans failed to show even a remote interest in getting straight answers from top Trump allies, like the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
The ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and the rest of the committee Democrats have complained that committee Republicans have failed to force witnesses to answer questions, to subpoena documents or to even attempt to look into potential financial entanglements among Trump, his associates and Russia.
"By ending its oversight role in the only authorized investigation in the House, the Majority has placed the interests of protecting the president over protecting the country, and history will judge its actions harshly," Schiff said on Monday.
"In the coming weeks and months, new information will continue to be exposed through enterprising journalism, indictments by the special counsel, or continued investigative work by committee Democrats and our counterparts in the Senate," he continued. "And each time this new information becomes public, Republicans will be held accountable for abandoning a critical investigation of such vital national importance.”
It also appears that Conaway ended the investigation without ever convening a meeting with Schiff and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who head up the Senate panel looking into Russian interference. Though Conaway had suggested in December that he hoped to align his committee’s factual findings with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, a source familiar with the inquiries said no meetings had occurred.
The decision to end the House investigation essentially cedes central questions to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading a parallel probe on Russian interference. That investigation has already led to the indictment of another former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and former national security adviser Mike Flynn, as well as guilty pleas from two other campaign aides.
Conaway’s decision comes despite recent reports suggesting that a new angle in Mueller’s investigation had picked up steam: questions surrounding the January 2017 trip by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to the Seychelles, where he met with the leader of a Russian-government-run investment fund. Reports suggest that investigators believe Prince was acting as a representative of the Trump transition team, but Prince told the House Intelligence Committee that wasn’t true.
Those entanglements have prevented House investigators from accessing Manafort, Flynn and other potentially pivotal witnesses to the activities of the campaign.
But the investigation had been marred from its early days by steadily rising hostility between Republicans and Democrats, a dynamic that grew into a crippling distraction. Members accused one another of leaking sensitive information from inside committee hearings, and the panel was sidetracked for weeks as Republicans took unprecedented steps to disclose classified information impugning the integrity of FBI agents involved in the early days of the Russia investigation.
Democrats have raised alarms in recent weeks amid indications that Republicans were moving quickly to curtail the inquiry. Schiff issued a list of subpoena requests Democrats had made that had gone ignored by Republicans on the committee. Among them: demanding more details from Donald Trump Jr. about the fallout from news that he’d met with Kremlin-connected Russians in Trump Tower during the campaign; travel, phone and banking records from Cohen; and Hicks, who declined to discuss her time in the White House and certain elements of the transition period.
Republicans, though, have argued that Democrats are stringing the investigation along to generate harmful headlines about members of the Trump team amid accusations they courted Russian help during the campaign. GOP members say they’ve seen no conclusive evidence of “collusion” between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.