“In 2015, Russia began engaging in a covert influence campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the report begins. “The Russian government, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, sought to sow discord in American society and undermine our faith in the democratic process.” Although these sentences suggest that the committee does not live in the president’s world of total denial, the committee neverthe less refused to accept that the Kremlin tried to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Mr. Trump.
Instead, the report insists without evidence that intelligence officials “did not employ proper analytic tradecraft” in reaching that conclusion. The committee promises an explanation of that conclusion sometime in the future. Instead, its members should examine why they have such a hard time accepting what is clear to neutral observers. While they are at it, they can reevaluate their obsession with the notion that the Justice Department improperly surveilled Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a debunked story that once again appears in their latest narrative.
In a report on a hostile Russian campaign against the United States, the committee also spends a substantial amount of ink attacking leakers whose disclosures helped raise the issue in the news media. The report insists that leaks on Russian operations “increased dramatically” after the 2016 election. Though probably intended to help Mr. Trump, this finding undermines one of his primary defenses; if there had been a “deep state” plot to stop Mr. Trump, wouldn’t the leaks have begun in earnest before Americans voted?
The report insists that the committee found no evidence of collusion or troubling pre-election ties between Mr. Trump and Russia. Committee Democrats reply that it is easy to not find evidence if you do not look for evidence. The committee appears to have taken Trump confidant Roger Stone at his word that his communications with sketchy Russian-connected entities were “innocuous.” The report dismisses a July 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russian agents and senior Trump staff because the Russians did not hand over any dirt on Ms. Clinton at that time — even though Trump staff sought it. Democrats point out that the committee avoided pressing witnesses who were involved in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s criminal investigation, which is understandable if done to avoid crossing wires with the Justice Department. But it is then unreasonable to pretend the committee’s investigation was comprehensive enough to assure Americans there was no collusion.
As we said, the report contains some good ideas. It recommends tighter communications on cyberthreats between federal and state agencies, both of which were too slow to respond to Russian infiltration in 2016. The report suggests funding for state and local governments to adopt stronger cybersecurity standards, for the federal agency that sets those standards, and for states and localities to conduct cyber risk assessments. And it suggests that electronic voting machines produce a reviewable paper trail. Too bad these suggestions are hidden inside so much folderol.