Lawmaker: Only Putin knows '16 goal

Helping Trump, hurting Clinton up to interpretation, House inquiry chief says

WASHINGTON -- The Republican leading the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian election interference softened his characterization Tuesday of a key investigative finding, a day after Republicans announced that they had completed a draft of their report.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who is leading the inquiry, had told reporters Monday that the committee's Republicans had extensively reviewed a 2017 assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies and found only one area of disagreement: that the Russians had favored Donald Trump's candidacy.

"We disagree with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump," Conaway said.

Speaking again with reporters Tuesday -- after U.S. intelligence officials, Democrats and some Republicans on the committee appeared to dispute that conclusion -- Conaway said it was a matter of interpretation whether the Russians were trying to hurt Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent, or explicitly help his candidacy.

"Everybody gets to make up their own mind whether they were trying to hurt Hillary or help Trump," he said. "It's kind of a glass half full, glass half empty."

"Only Putin knows for sure what he wanted to do," Conaway added of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January 2017 that Putin had personally "ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election" that shifted from trying to "denigrate" Clinton to developing "a clear preference for President-elect Trump."

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said Monday that the agencies would review the committee's report but that they stood by their work.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee's top Democrat, said Tuesday that after reviewing the same material the Republicans had, "the evidence is clear and overwhelming that the intelligence community assessment was correct."

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Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who played a key role in the investigation, appeared to agree with that sentiment.

"It is also clear, based on the evidence, Russia had disdain for Secretary Clinton and was motivated in whole or in part by a desire to harm her candidacy or undermine her presidency had she prevailed," he said.

Conaway said Tuesday that his committee was taking issue with the intelligence agencies' "analytic tradecraft," suggesting that analysts had assembled the relevant portion of the assessment using material that typically would not meet their own standards. He never disputed that the Russians had undertaken measures to try to disrupt the election.

The conclusion that the intelligence community had erred in its 2017 assessment about the Russians' intentions was one of the key Republican findings presented by Conaway. He also said the investigation had found no evidence of collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 election.

Republicans presented the 150-page document to Democrats on Tuesday for review and plan to initiate what could be a protracted declassification process to release it publicly.

On CNN late Monday, Rep. Thomas Rooney, R-Fla., who also serves on the Intelligence Committee, said partisan infighting had caused the committee's investigation to lose "all credibility."

Asked why Republicans on the committee were aiming to close their investigation even as special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation appears to be intensifying, Rooney replied, "We've gone completely off the rails."

"We're basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day's news."

He didn't specify which leaks he meant, and accusations have fallen on members of both parties in the committee.

On CNN, Rooney appeared to blame his panel's Democrats for beginning the decline into partisanship. But he said "we've lost all credibility" after a year of work. "That's why I called for the investigation to end."

Trump, meanwhile, praised the draft Republican report, saying the White House is "very, very happy" with the GOP conclusions.

"It was a powerful decision that left no doubt, and I want to thank the House Intelligence Committee," Trump told reporters Tuesday.

Information for this article was contributed by Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times; by Avi Selk of The Washington Post; and by Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day and Darlene Superville of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/14/2018

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