Call it an August surprise. Or an October surprise that came early.
The last volume of a hefty report on Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, produced by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee, landed with a metaphorical thud in Washington inboxes on Tuesday. It was a bit startling, to say the least.
The report contained more detail and direct language than special counsel Robert Mueller’s corresponding effort. Some examples:
Then-campaign manager Paul Manafort represented a “grave counterintelligence threat” to the United States because he shared internal polls and otherwise communicated with longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the report specifically identifies as “a Russian intelligence officer.”
President Donald Trump told Mr. Mueller in written testimony that he couldn’t recall speaking with advisor Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and their leaked Democratic emails. “Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about Wikileaks … on multiple occasions,” writes the GOP-led committee.
Mr. Stone even drafted pro-Russian tweets for President Trump, and forwarded them to a White House aide under the subject line “Tweets Mr. Trump requested last night.”
Yes, GOP Senators on the panel said the report did not find illegal “collusion” between the Trump team and Russia.
Yet the Intelligence Committee document – like the Mueller Report – is not an exoneration. Much remains unknown, it says. The committee obtained “two pieces of information” which raised the possibility that Mr. Manafort was connected to Russia’s hack-and-leak operation – which, if true, would pretty much be … collusion.
What the new volume may really accomplish is to undermine the October Surprise reporters already expected: the ongoing Justice Department probe, led by federal prosecutor John Durham, into the origin of the FBI Russia investigation.
President Trump has promoted the Durham investigation, intimating that it could land a number of former officials, including high-ranking ones, in jail.
But it’s pretty hard to read the Senate Intelligence report – approved, remember, by Republican lawmakers – and then agree with Attorney General William Barr that the Mueller probe was based on a “very thin, slender reed.”
From Mr. Manafort to Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official the report describes as slippery, it’s clear how agents found the whole thing suspicious – and why they felt a need to investigate.
“How exactly could the FBI not investigate such things?” writes Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and editor of Lawfare.
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