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GOP House Intel report clears Trump team of collusion, Dems say not so fast

A redacted version of the House Intelligence Committee's GOP report on the Russian investigation released Friday not surprisingly absolves the Trump campaign of collusion with Russia while a "Minority Views" report by committee Democrats released simultaneously pointed to suspicious activities that suggested members of the Trump team may have been in close contact with Russian operatives.

“There is no evidence that Trump associates were involved in the theft or publication of Clinton campaign-related emails, although Trump associates had numerous ill-advised contacts with Wikileaks,” the report said, noting that the Trump team “made ample use of the publicly available emails,” that appeared in numerous news media outlets. “There is no evidence that Trump or anyone associated with him played a role in the hacking of emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, among other entities and individuals.”

Trump immediately seized on the GOP committee members' contentions that there was no collusion between his circle and Russian operatives, tweeting again that the investigation is “a total  Witch Hunt” that “MUST END NOW!”

But calling the report “highly partisan, incomplete and deeply flawed,” former CIA Director John O. Brennan responded on Twitter to Trump saying that “it means nothing” in contrast to the probe underway by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, which he said “is being carried out by professional investigators—not political staffers. The SC's findings will be comprehensive & authoritative.”

The committee has long been fractured along party lines with the Democratic faction accusing their GOP colleagues of trying to sabotage the investigations. After a mysterious late-night excursion to the White House in spring 2017 to view intelligence -- and a subsequent briefing with Trump – brought into question his ability to lead an independent investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and ties between the Trump campaign and Russia operatives, committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., relinquished leadership of the investigation.

The two parties have bickered nearly non-stop over how to proceed with the probe and have released separate assessments of the evidence the committee gathered. In early February, Nunes released a memo on the findings, which detractors pegged as a set of talking points meant to discredit the investigation into Russian interference. A Democrat mem, issued in rebuttal a couple of weeks later, took issue with the GOP's assertions that the FBI had misled the FISA court when seeking a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Both memos, though, indicated that the FBI's probe into Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election expanded to include potential collusion between the Trump campaign after former campaign aide George Papadopoulos revealed troubling information to an Australian diplomat, more than two months before investigators got their hands on the controversial dossier compiled as opposition research by former British spy Christopher Steele. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller. Friday's reports show that the committee, which shut down its probe last month, remained divided.

"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," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the committee's ranking Democrat, said in a statement.

In particular, the committee refused to subpoena Donald Trump, Jr.'s phone records to determine the identity of a blocked number that appeared after the president's son set up a controversial meeting in Trump Tower with Russian operatives who reportedly wanted to give him dirt on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The younger Trump claimed the meeting was to discussion Russian adoptions.

"We sought to determine whether that number belonged to the president because we also ascertained that then-candidate Trump used a blocked number,” Schiff told the Washington Post. “That would tell us whether Don Jr. sought his father's permission to take the meeting, and [whether] that was the purpose of that call.”

The two parties did seem to agree, however, that the final reports were too heavily redacted with Nunes noting in a statement that “we object to the excessive and unjustified number of redactions, many of which do not relate to classified information. The Committee will convey our objections to the appropriate agencies and looks forward to publishing a less redacted version in the near future.”

And Schiff pledged that the minority on the committee would continue to investigate. "This week, we interviewed a key witness to the corrupt work of Cambridge Analytica, and received new documents from another important witness," according to his statement. "We will continue our investigation using every means at our disposal; to do otherwise would ignore our responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight and ensure that the Russians do not possess leverage over the President of the United States.”

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