Editor’s Note: Preet was going to write about the DNC but got sidelined when, for the second time, a Trump campaign chairman was indicted on federal charges. By SDNY. Working with the law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service. Stay Tuned for Preet’s reaction to the charges against Steve Bannon and others.
For over three years, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, which operates as one of the few bipartisan institutions left in Washington, has investigated Russian interference into the 2016 election. On Tuesday, the Committee released its fifth and final report focused on counterintelligence threats and vulnerabilities. While limited in its scope, the nearly thousand-page volume validates the key findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and offers greater detail about links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government.
Following the report’s release, Senate Republicans sought to frame its findings as an exoneration of President Trump and his campaign team. However, according to Ben Wittes, the editor-in-chief of Lawfare and a friend of CAFE (check out his appearances on Stay Tuned and CAFE Insider), “What Senate Republicans are saying about their own report comes perilously close to simple lying.”
While the report avoids making a determination on the issue of “collusion” — a term with no relevant legal meaning — it sheds new light on the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, particularly those of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The Intelligence Committee details how Manafort, a longtime lobbyist and campaign consultant who in March of last year was sentenced to 47 months for tax and bank fraud, worked closely with a Russian intelligence officer who may have been involved in the hacking of Democratic emails during the election. The report states:
The Committee found that Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign. Taken as a whole, Manafort’s high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services…represented a grave counterintelligence threat.
Unlike Mueller’s investigation, which focused on questions of criminal law, the Intelligence Committee carried out a counterintelligence investigation, allowing them broader leeway to draw conclusions. “For example,” Wittes writes, “they assert confidently that Konstantin Kilimnik, the business associate of one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is a Russian intelligence officer, whereas Mueller did not go that far. Where Mueller was confined to that which he could prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt, the Intelligence Committee could be a little laxer in reporting its findings.”
The report also provides additional grist for Republicans’ criticism of the FBI’s conduct in the lead-up to the 2016 election. In particular, it denounces the FBI’s reliance on the “Steele dossier,” a largely discredited research file compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. “Many of the dossier’s specific allegations about the activities of individuals are uncorroborated,” the report reads. The report outlines Manafort’s business connections with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who the Committee calls “a key implementer of Russian influence operations around the globe.” The probe reveals that “Steele had worked for Deripaska, likely beginning at least in 2012, and continued to work for him into 2017, providing a potential direct channel for Russian influence on the dossier.”
Politicians on both sides of the aisle scrambled to characterize the report’s findings. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was named acting Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee following Senator Richard Burr’s (R-NC) decision to step down amid an investigation into potential insider trading, focused his public remarks on the Steele dossier. “We discovered deeply troubling actions taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, particularly their acceptance and willingness to rely on the ‘Steele Dossier’ without verifying its methodology or sourcing,” Rubio said in a statement. Meanwhile, in an appendix released alongside the report, Democrats on the Intelligence Committee wrote: “The committee’s bipartisan report unambiguously shows that members of the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to get Trump elected…This is what collusion looks like.”
Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein will dive deeper into the report’s findings on a new episode of United Security dropping tomorrow. In the meantime, what do you make of the Intelligence Committee’s findings? Is the report too little, too late?
Write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts or reply to this email.
*To listen to Insider content on your favorite podcast app, follow these instructions*
— Listen to this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “No Voter Left Behind,” featuring Maria Teresa Kumar, the President and CEO of Voto Latino. And be sure to check out the special Stay Tuned bonus for Insiders.
— Listen to this week’s episode of CAFE Insider, “Please Mr. Postman,” where Preet and Anne make sense of the flurry of recent news surrounding the US Postal Service.
— Listen to cybersecurity expert Alex Stamos on the new episode of Cyber Space with John Carlin.
That’s it for this week. We hope you’re enjoying CAFE Insider. Reply to this email or write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.
— Edited by Tamara Sepper
The CAFE Team:
Tamara Sepper, Adam Waller, Sam Ozer-Staton, David Kurlander, Noa Azulai, Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, David Tatasciore, and Matthew Billy, and Nat Weiner.