The House Intelligence Committee’s Russian election meddling probe which ended Monday began with a bang and ended — at least for the panel’s Republicans — with a whimper.
The partisan nature of the probe continued right to the end, with most GOP members saying their final report completed Monday night showed the investigation had come to the end of its usefulness and minority Democrats on Tuesday slamming the conclusion that no Trump campaign-Russia collusion had been uncovered.
Almost a year ago, the committee’s first public hearing proved a blockbuster when then-FBI Director James B. Comey publicly confirmed that the bureau was actually investigating alleged Russian meddling.
But the panel’s credibility and ability to work across the aisle quickly unraveled the traditionally bipartisan panel, Capitol Hill observers said Tuesday. During its final wave of closed door hearings the committee was so spent that Trump associates called to testify simply refused to answer its questions.
“We have lost all credibility and we’re going to issue probably two different reports, unfortunately,” Rep. Tom Rooney, Florida Republican, said Monday on CNN.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican who headed the committee’s probe, announced Republican members had finished interviewing witnesses and would soon hand their Democratic colleagues a draft report of conclusions. He dismissed the idea that President Trump had somehow conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election as a “spy thriller.”
Outraged panel Democrats vowed to fight on, stating late Tuesday night that “there is significant evidence, much of it in the public domain, on the issue of collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia and announcing they’ll soon release a 22-page report detailing the evidence.
Still on the case is the Senate Intelligence Committee, which expects to soon issue a report on election security. And lawmakers of both parties said the most thorough accounting of the 2016 election controversy will come from special counsel Robert Mueller, who has given little public indication of what his investigators have found.
Much of the House committee’s partisan battle was between two Californians — Republican Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes and its top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff.
Democrats accused Mr. Nunes of using the probe to defend Mr. Trump instead of investigating Russian meddling. He was forced to step aside from leading the inquiry for several month after he visited the White House alone and reviewed information which alleged that Obama-era national security officials had spied on the Trump campaign.
Republicans meanwhile, accused Mr. Schiff of using the proceedings to raise his personal profile and undercut the Trump administration. Last month the Republican National Committee announced that during the investigation’s 13 months the previously little-known lawmaker granted 227 TV interviews. The bane of the GOP, Mr. Schiff became so unpopular with the White House that President Trump nicknamed him twice.
Last month, Mr. Nunes and Mr. Schiff issued dueling memos over alleged Justice Department and FBI abuses at the nation’s secret surveillance court when securing warrants to spy on Trump campaign personnel.
The politics grew so toxic that panel leadership considering building a physical wall in the committee’s office to separate GOP and Democratic aides.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Nunes remained tightly focused on Mr. Trump’s enemies, noting that the probe should have done more to investigate Democrats. “We did find clear links between the Russians and the Hillary Clinton campaign, which no one seems to care about,” he told Fox News.
On Tuesday night Mr. Schiff called the investigation’s close “a terrible disservice to the country and the American people.”
The Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group, blasted the House panel for failing to follow past congressional investigations to work “in a bipartisan manner.”
John O. Brennan, CIA director under President Obama, warned lawmakers trying to protect Mr. Trump him that they’ll soon face a “reckoning.”
“Leadership of House Intel Committee has traded last vestige of integrity for politics,” Mr. Brennan tweeted. “With other investigative shoes yet to drop, legislators who try to protect @realDonaldTrump will face November reckoning. Hopefully, bipartisan effort in Senate Intel Committee will endure.”
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