House Republicans have investigated whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election and come to this conclusion: No.
They announced that finding in March and released a report on Friday explaining how they arrived at that result.
Investigators found “no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government,” said the report released by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats on the committee released their own dissenting report.
With the caveat that a chunk of the report is redacted, legal experts say there are reasons to be skeptical of the conclusion, and here is a big one: Republicans' findings directly contradict the entire U.S. intelligence community on some pretty basic stuff.
Let's zero in on those differences to help us determine whether Republicans' no-collusion conclusion is based more in fact or politics.
1. They accuse the FBI of “significant intelligence tradecraft failings”
House Republicans have joined President Trump for months now in trying to raise concern, if not outright alarm bells, that the FBI is inept, biased and even corrupt.
Implicit in that message is that the FBI, which is lending its resources to the special counsel investigation, is not capable of conducting an accurate or fair investigation into the president.
How this contradicts the intelligence community: The FBI, obviously, does not agree with the report. When Republicans released a previously classified memo accusing the FBI of bias when it got a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign official Carter Page, the head of the FBI — a Trump appointee — said he had “grave concerns” about omissions that “impact the memo's accuracy.”
2. They say that Trump Tower meeting and other Russia connections were not collusion
Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign officials' decision to meet with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton was “poor judgment,” the GOP report says — but it was not evidence of collusion.
President Trump's attempts to do business in Russia before the campaign also had nothing to do with collusion, Republicans argue. They have already argued the FBI never should have received a warrant to spy on Page.
How this contradicts the intelligence community: Mueller appears to still be investigating all of this. A parallel bipartisan Senate panel has not yet concluded its investigation.
Legal experts say there is plenty of evidence out there that is worth considering.
Two former Trump advisers claimed during the campaign they knew Russia had dirt on Clinton, or had communicated with the group that hacked Democratic emails — before those things happened.
Also, the FBI successfully renewed secret warrants to spy on a Trump official, Page, during the campaign, which requires multiple levels of authorization and approval from a secret court.
Finally, Democrats and legal experts have argued the Republican investigation ignored key witnesses and evidence. Those claims were bolstered Friday when, on the same day Republicans' report was published, the Russian lawyer at that Trump Tower meeting told the New York Times she is an “informant” for the Kremlin — suggesting her ties to the Russian government go way deeper than previously known.
Bottom line: It is too soon to say there is collusion, but legal experts also say it is too soon to say there is not collusion.
3. They say Russia did intervene in the election — just not specifically to help Trump
That conclusion is pretty self explanatory, so let's just jump straight to how this contradicts the intelligence community: This is the exact opposite of what intelligence agencies found.
Intelligence experts have concluded Russia did it to help Trump win. The former head of the CIA during the election testified to Congress to that effect. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's team recently obtained indictments of 13 Russians alleging they interfered in the election to help Trump win. They detailed how Russians used fake identities to get Trump campaign staffers in Florida to stage a rally that featured Hillary Clinton in a cage, as well as other pro-Trump rallies.
Legal experts say the evidence that Russia intervened specifically to push voters to Trump is clear. The fact that Republicans are claiming otherwise risks undermining their argument about why the intelligence community is wrong on Russia.
“That assessment doesn’t pass the most basic smell test and is completely unmoored from reality,” said Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School.