Republicans try to sweep away evidence on Trump-Russia links; Democrats declare “whitewash”

Developments on Day 363 of the Trump Administration:

House Committee Report: “No Evidence” of Trump Campaign Involvement in Moscow’s Interference

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee absolve Donald Trump over links with Russia during the 2016 Presidential election, preferring to criticize aides to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the FBI, and other Government agencies.

In a 250-page report, the GOP members insisted that they had uncovered no evidence of the Trump campaign’s involvement in Russian interference in the election, only ill-advised contacts between campaign aides and Russian officials or their intermediaries.

The report denounced Clinton aides for paying for the “Steele Dossier”, the 2016 collection of intelligence memoranda that sets out evidence of Russian political and financial connections with Trump and his advisors. They said federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies had not countered Russian interference and accused them of damaging national security leaks.

Committee Democrats countered, in a dissent of almost 100 pages, that the GOP report is a whitewash. They said the eagerness of Trump campaign aides to accept offers of Russian assistance indicates “a consciousness of wrongfulness, if not illegality”. The Democrats complained that the committee failed to pursue obvious leads, interview important witnesses, or investigate crucial lines of inquiry.

The Committee was troubled from the outset of its hearings by signals that its inquiry would be limited or even compromised. Chairman Devin Nunes, a member of the Trump transition team, met with White House officials in March 2017 to receive information trying to refocus hearings on alleged wiretapping by the Obama Administration.

Nunes recused himself weeks later, but continued to try and shift attention from Trump to his opponents. In February, the Congressman’s staff issued a report which tried to pin blame on the FBI and to undermine the Steele Dossier and other intelligence.

The effort failed, with the report denounced as erroneous and distorted. However, the GOP members of the House Committee announced that they were terminating hearings and would listen to no more witnesses.

The work of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as that of Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues, but Donald Trump seized on the GOP report to claim vindication and assail the Democrats and Mueller:

A day earlier, Trump had concluded a rambling interview with Fox and Friends with a lengthy rant against Mueller, the FBI, and Justice Department, prompting the hosts of his favorite program to try and close the conversation.

See TrumpWatch, Day 362: Trump Skates on Thin Ice in “Fox and Friends” Interview

More Information on Trump-Russia Contacts and Stolen E-Mails

Yet, even as they tried to clear Trump and his inner circle, the Republicans left further clues about the extent of contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

The report said Michael Flynn, later National Security advisor, and his son met privately with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at his Washington residence in December 2015. Flynn’s son later e-mailed the Russian Embassy that the meeting had been “very productive”.

On July 15, 2016, Flynn e-mailed another Trump campaign aide with an apparent preview of the release of e-mails, stolen by the Russians from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton advisors: “There are a number of things happening (and will happen) this election via cyber operations (by both hacktivists, nation states and the DNC).”

Just over a month earlier, three Kremlin-linked envoys had met Donald Trump Jr.; Donald Trump Sr.’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; and campaign manager Paul Manafort to discuss the delivery of material damaging to Clinton. In July, the first revelations of Russian hacking emerged, prompting candidate Trump to say he would welcome Russian release of Clinton’s e-mails.

In September, WikiLeaks — which received the stolen e-mails from Russia through a third party, according to US intelligence agencies — began releasing the material.

However, the Committee never interviewed Flynn.

GOP members wrote in their report, “While the committee found that several of the contacts between Trump associates and Russians — or their proxies, including WikiLeaks — were ill-advised, the committee did not determine that Trump or anyone associated with him assisted Russia’s active-measures campaign.”

The Republicans noted the trip to Moscow of Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page in July 2016 — a visit highlighted by the Steele dossier, including discussions of oil deals and politics with Russian officials, with material later corroborated by US intelligence assessments. However, the report preferred to criticize the intelligence agencies for not warning the Trump campaign against Page’s links to Russia, even though that disclosure might have jeopardized an ongoing FBI investigation of the advisor.

Trump and Germany’s Merkel Have a Tense Encounter

Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in Washington but fail to ease tensions over US tariffs and over the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump, who ordered ill-fated steel and aluminum tariffs last month that would have affected Germany before exemptions were granted, continued to complain on Friday that the trade relationship between the US and Europe was “unfair” and that the World Trade Organization is terrible:

We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don’t have. The chancellor and I have discussed it today at length, and we’re working on it. And we want to make it more fair and the chancellor wants to make it more fair.

Looking serious and sometimes perplexed as Trump spoke, Merkel made clear that Trump had not granted a permanent exemption for the European Union from the tariffs: “We had an exchange of views on the current state of affairs of the negotiations, and the respective assessments on where we stand on this. And the decision lies with the President.”

Merkel followed French President Emmanuel Macron, who had a state visit in Washington earlier this year, in expression of concern that Trump will effectively withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal, refusing to renew a waiver of Congressional sanctions by a May 12 deadline.

The Chanceller said the deal was imperfect but “one piece of the mosaic” to deal with the Islamic Republic: “We will now see what sort of decisions are made by American partners.”

Trump did not indicate what he will do over the sanctions waivers, instead making the tangential declaration, “They’re not going to be doing nuclear weapons. You can bank on it.”

The July 2015 deal is not over nuclear weapons but Iran’s civil nuclear program. Under its terms Tehran gave up 20% enriched uranium — which could potentially be enriched to military-grade 95% — and suspended research and development of new nuclear centrifuges.

See Podcast: Macron and Trump is Not a “Bromance” — It’s French Power Politics
TrumpWatch, Day 361: Macron Rips Trump in Speech to Congress, Worries Over Iran Deal