President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign did not collude, coordinate or conspire with elements of the Russian government in an effort to defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to a report made public Friday by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
But committee investigators did find substantial evidence of “poor judgment and ill-considered actions” by both candidates’ campaigns. The Clinton campaign, for example, was severely criticized for its role in funding opposition research heavily based on Russian sources.
The report’s authors also pointed to what they termed the Trump campaign’s “highly objectionable … periodic praise for and communication with” WikiLeaks, described by the report as “a hostile foreign organization.”
The president’s campaign was particularly singled out for criticism by the report, in that the “June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer who falsely purported to have damaging information on the Clinton campaign demonstrated poor judgment.”
That meeting included Donald Trump, Jr., then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who is now a White House adviser. The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, promised to provide unspecified incriminating evidence about Clinton, but spent the bulk of the half-hour conversation with the three Trump associates lobbying for repeal of certain U.S. sanctions on influential figures in Russia.
Regarding the Clinton campaign, the report said investigators “found that the Clinton campaign and the DNC [Democratic National Committee], using a series of cutouts and intermediaries to obscure their roles, paid for opposition research on Trump obtained from Russian sources, including a litany of claims by high-ranking current and former Russian government officials.”
Those claims provided the bulk of material assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele at the behest of the Washington-based opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was paid by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.
The report said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a covert campaign beginning in 2015 aimed at influencing the U.S. election and predicted such efforts would be renewed due to the “effectiveness and relatively low cost of information operations, such as the dissemination of propaganda.”
Such covert campaigns will not end “unless the cost-benefit equation of such operations changes significantly,” with a result that “the Putin regime and other hostile governments will continue to pursue these attacks against the United States and its allies.”
Friday’s heavily redacted report contained new surprises because a summary of the panel’s conclusions was made public last month. The report was based on interviews with 73 witnesses and a review of more than 300,000 documents.
Committee Democrats rejected the Republican majority’s conclusions in the report. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s ranking minority member, said in a statement Friday that “throughout the investigation, committee Republicans chose not to seriously investigate — or even see, when in plain sight — evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, instead adopting the role of defense counsel for key investigation witnesses.”