Nearly a week after Special Counsel Robert Mueller turned in his report on the Russian probe and amid calls for Rep. Adam Schiff to resign as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the committee’s first hearing got off to a fiery start with Schiff reasserting his belief that members of the Trump campaign had inappropriate contacts with Russian government operatives and took aim at his GOP colleagues for their seeming indifference to those contacts.
"My colleagues might think it's OK that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what's described as the Russian government's effort to help the Trump campaign," Schiff said. “My colleagues might think it's OK that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help — no, instead that son said he would ‘love’ the help with the Russians.”
Before the hearing on “Putin's Playbook: The Kremlin's Use of Oligarchs, Money and Intelligence in 2016 and Beyond” began, the GOP members of the committee had called for Schiff’s resignation, accusing the chairman of continuing “to promote a demonstrably false narrative” that “is alarming” in light of the special counsel’s findings that they said “conclusively refute your past and present exertions, and have exposed you of having abused your position to knowingly promote false information.”
According to a four-page summary of the report by Attorney General William Barr, Mueller’s report says members of the Trump campaign, including the president, did not coordinate with the Russian government in efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller did not find that “anyone in the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired with the Russian government,” Barr said.
The report has not yet been made public or released to members of Congress so its contents and Mueller’s findings and reasoning are unknown.
At Thursday’s hearing, Schiff laid out some of the evidence that he believes constitutes coordination between members of the Trump team and Russian operatives, including former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort sitting in on the now infamous Trump Tower meeting hosted by Donald Trump, Jr.
“You might think it's OK that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it's OK that the president's son-in-law also took that meeting,” said Schiff. “You might think it's OK that they concealed it from the public. You might think it's OK that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn't better.”
The House Intelligence Committee has been hamstrung by partisan riffs. Former Chairman Devon Nunes, R-Calif., in April 2017 recused himself from the committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and ties between the Trump campaign and Russia operatives after a mysterious "midnight run" to the White House to view intelligence — and a subsequent briefing with President Donald Trump who was a target – brought into question his ability to lead an independent probe and prompted a complaint to the House Ethics Committee.
The Senate Intelligence Committee also continues its Russia investigation, meeting with Jared Kushner today behind closed doors.