House Republicans investigating Russian interference ended their investigation last month, saying that Russia's government tried to influence the 2016 election but not to help Trump win the presidency. The House GOP's conclusion directly contradicted that of the entire U.S. intelligence community, but it was a big win for Trump. The president has been hesitant to acknowledge that Russia interfered on his part, ostensibly out of fear that doing so would undermine his win.
But now the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee, which released its own assessment Wednesday, is contradicting the House report, saying that Russia did try to help Trump win.
“Our staff concluded that the [intelligence community’s] conclusions were accurate and on point,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the panel's top Democrat, said Wednesday in a joint statement with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
That's a problem for Trump.
When House Republicans released their version of events in May, Trump championed it as more proof that he's innocent of all things related to Russia: of being favored by the country during the election, of colluding with Russians to help him win and of obstructing the ensuing investigation of the first two.
Whether there was collusion or obstruction of justice is still undecided, both by the Senate Intelligence Committee and, more notably for Trump, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who has prosecutorial powers.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose investigation has long been considered the more bipartisan the congressional ones, just significantly watered down in two big ways Trump's first argument that Russia didn't help him:
1. Even Republican lawmakers who have looked at this seriously say Russia helped Trump
“I’m not sure that the House was required to substantiate every conclusion with facts,” Burr told reporters last week, by way of explaining why the House report said Russia didn't help Trump. That's pretty pointed.
Legal experts slammed House Republicans' findings, too.
Their “assessment doesn’t pass the most basic smell test and is completely unmoored from reality,” Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School, told The Fix in April.
2. The intelligence community's credibility just got a big boost, too
An effort to undermine the broader intelligence community goes hand-in-hand with Trump and his allies' assessment that Russia was indifferent about who became president.
Trump and his House Republican allies have for months now tried raise suspicion that the FBI is inept, biased and even corrupt. Implicit in that message is that the bureau, which is lending its resources to the special counsel investigation, is not capable of conducting an accurate or fair investigation of the president.
House Republicans declassified a memo alleging that the FBI relied on faulty information when it got its warrant to spy on a Trump campaign official during the campaign. But the FBI, led by someone Trump picked, issued a rare public rebuke of that memo, saying it was cherry-picked.
The Washington Post reported that Trump wanted to release that memo to use it to fire officials in charge of the independent Russia investigation led by Mueller. A few months later, we learned that Trump's GOP allies in the House had drafted highly political articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller.
It gets a lot more difficult for Trump to justify firing Rosenstein or undermining the investigation and the intelligence agents behind it if his own party doesn't agree with him.