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Opinion The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report really is damning

Sen. Mark R.Warner (D-Va.) makes remarks at an event marking 100 days since the death of Jamal Khashoggi, on Jan. 10, 2019. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared on television Sunday to discuss the fifth and final volume the committee has published on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump. Keep in mind that this volume was approved 14 to 1 by the committee, including the chairman who oversaw most of the investigation, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Republicans can publicly spin all they like, but the facts are there, nearly unanimously confirmed. The report is replete with damning details of contacts between the Trump campaign (including Roger Stone on the WikiLeaks hack and email dump) and Russian operatives.

Warner explained on “Meet the Press” that there were “unprecedented contacts between Russians and folks on the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign officials welcomed that help.” He added, “Maybe one of the most stunning was the level of detail of the then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, sharing very specific campaign information with a Russian agent.” Warner said, “We’ll never know what the Russians did with that information. But think about that. A campaign manager sharing with a known Russian agent during the middle of a campaign.” That is quite simply collusion.

The suggestion by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that no collusion occurred and that the committee report actually proves this (!!) ignores the connection between Manafort and Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik, the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower among campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (who had much closer ties to Russian intelligence than previously was known), Roger Stone’s connection to WikiLeaks, and Trump’s open invitation to Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Trump left the door wide open to foreign influence in U.S. elections. Only the sycophants and dregs are left in the Trump administration. Warner pointed to the departures of respected, independent figures including Daniel Coats as director of national intelligence, acting director of national intelligence Joe Maguire and “both their deputies, to Michael Atkinson.” He added, “Trump intel officials who all told the truth about the Russian ongoing investigation ... were all fired because this president and this White House doesn’t want to hear the truth.”

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The final volume has raised real concern about why the findings of the special counsel investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III were less extensive and his conclusions so timid. In fairness, the Senate intelligence report notes that Mueller “successfully secured numerous criminal indictments and convictions. This included indictments of Russian nationals associated with a Russian government-sponsored social media campaign and GRU [Russian intelligence] personnel who hacked into the DNC and other related targets.” The Senate report continues that the special counsel’s investigation “also secured convictions of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates,” the former leaders of Trump’s campaign, “for activity stemming from their work in Ukraine, as well as numerous other convictions related to conduct which criminally misled or obstructed investigations into Russian election interference. This latter category included convictions of Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, and Michael Flynn.” As for the final batch, referring to the convictions of Trump’s associate Stone; his former personal lawyer, Cohen; and his first national security adviser, Flynn, the Senate report said: “These criminal cases, prosecuted while under immense public and political scrutiny, brought to light significant criminal conduct.”

However, attempting to squeeze the facts concerning Trump’s betrayal of our democracy into a criminal law context was perhaps unwise from the start. (The criminality, to the extent it existed, is found in the obstruction findings Mueller produced.) It is telling that in its recommendations the intelligence committee urged: “Campaigns should notify FBI of all foreign offers of assistance, and all staff should be made aware of this expectation. In order to not encourage, or amplify, foreign influence efforts, campaigns should reject the use of foreign origin material, especially if it has potentially been obtained though the violation of U.S. law.” Currently, there is no legal obligation to do this.

Trump’s campaign was the only one in U.S. history to be so heavily courted by a foreign power. The Trump team’s great sin is that it welcomed Russia’s efforts. In the Ukraine scandal, Trump sought out foreign help. Republicans’ constitutional and moral failure was in refusing to object and even giving Trump cover to let foreigners manipulate our elections. Voters can render their verdict in November and decide whether our country would do better with patriots who would rebuff, report and expose such conduct.

No other major-party presidential candidate in history, I would argue, would ever contemplate selling out our democracy and letting a foreign power dictate the course of U.S. elections. The lesson from Trump’s betrayal may be that we cannot assume decent and honorable conduct by presidential contenders. We may need a law to prevent future Trumps from selling American democracy down the river.

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