THE NATION’S intelligence community concluded long ago that the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election in an effort to hurt the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. In the face of this unprecedented attack on U.S. democracy, House Republicans have produced a report that casts doubt on the work of U.S. intelligence professionals whose conclusions were politically damaging to the White House. This was a new low for the Republican majority and their leader, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee Republicans officially stopped pretending to investigate Russian election meddling, handing over a draft report to their Democratic colleagues. They did not deny what is plainly impossible to refute, that the Russians aggressively interfered in the race to sow discord and undermine U.S. political institutions. But they disputed the intelligence community’s finding that the Russians engaged in these activities to help Mr. Trump. In fact, House Republicans are trying to draw connections between the Kremlin’s influence campaign and Ms. Clinton, always a convenient GOP punching bag, deflecting awkward questions about Russia’s clear affinity for Mr. Trump in 2016.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat, and former intelligence officials decried the attempt to cast doubt on Russian intentions. “The four intelligence chiefs all agreed with the assessment, which was based on highly classified intelligence,” former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. told CNN. “This is a case of people living in their own reality bubbles when we can’t agree on basic facts.” Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III recently indicted 13 Russians for, among other things, “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump . . . and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” It is already on the record that the Russians selectively released damaging information on Democrats but not Republicans.
Perhaps sensing that their position was untenable, Republican Intelligence Committee members admitted to reporters later on Tuesday that the Russians had, indeed, attempted to harm Ms. Clinton, if not to help Mr. Trump, as though doing the former does not imply the latter.
If they’re unclear about Russian intentions, leaders won’t draw the right lessons, or even ask the right questions. Why did the Kremlin dislike Ms. Clinton and favor Mr. Trump? What kinds of candidates will the Russians attack, or help? How should voters assess the president’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
House Intelligence Committee Republicans also insisted that they found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, just evidence of “bad judgment” in a few circumstances. It’s easy not to find evidence when you don’t look. Many potentially relevant witnesses went un-interviewed, and witnesses who refused to answer questions were let off the hook. Fortunately, while House lawmakers have decided that their work is done, the Senate Intelligence Committee continues investigating, as does Mr. Mueller. History will not judge kindly these legislators who abased themselves and their institution.
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