Transcripts Reaffirm Mueller’s Findings That Russia Interfered to Hurt Clinton and Help Trump, the Campaign Invited and Made Full Use of Illicit Russian Help, and Trump Lied to Cover It Up White House Would Not Allow Release of All Transcripts for More Than a Year By Holding Up Declassification Process Until this Week.
Today, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is making available to the public 57 transcripts, as well as additional material, from the Committee’s investigation in 2017 and 2018 into Russia’s interference campaign targeting the 2016 U.S. election.
Accompanying today’s release, the Committee has sent a letter informing Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell that the Committee is releasing the transcripts with the redactions applied by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), now that the White House has abandoned its improper effort to interfere politically in the classification review. In the interest of transparency, the Committee is also making public correspondence between the Committee and the White House and ODNI related to the White House’s effort to intercede in the classification review.
After releasing the transcripts, Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) stated:
“From 2017 to 2018, the House Intelligence Committee conducted an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Despite the many barriers put in our way by the then-Republican Majority, and attempts by some key witnesses to lie to us and obstruct our investigation, the transcripts that we are releasing today show precisely what Special Counsel Robert Mueller also revealed: That the Trump campaign, and Donald Trump himself, invited illicit Russian help, made full use of that help, and then lied and obstructed the investigations in order to cover up this misconduct.
“Unfortunately, the President’s misconduct did not end with his election in 2016 or his attempts to cover up that effort. Rather, in the course of his presidency, he continued to seek illicit foreign help in his campaign by coercing another nation, Ukraine, to smear his opponent. After making use of Russia’s help with his first presidential campaign, President Trump pressed the Ukrainian president to help him in 2020 by withholding critical military aid to that country and a coveted head of state meeting.
“These acts ultimately led to the President’s impeachment in the House of Representatives and the first bipartisan vote in the Senate in our history in support of a conviction of a President of the United States. The President’s efforts to make use of the help of a foreign power to win an election, and then to extort yet another foreign power to try to win again, represent a grave threat to the health of our democracy now and in the future.
“The transcripts released today richly detail evidence of the Trump campaign’s efforts to invite, make use of, and cover up Russia’s help in the 2016 presidential election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller identified in his report similar, and even more extensive, evidence of improper links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government. A bipartisan Senate investigation also found that Russia sought to help the candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016.
“While Special Counsel Mueller found insufficient evidence to prove the crime of criminal conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt, he refused to draw any conclusion on the issue of collusion – contrary to false representations made by Attorney General Bill Barr and others. There is ample evidence of the corrupt interactions between the Trump campaign and Russia, both direct and circumstantial, in the record:
In June of 2016, a Russian delegation offered dirt on Donald Trump's rival–presidential candidate Hillary Clinton–to the highest levels of the Trump campaign, and did so in writing. Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., accepted that offer, and then set up a secret meeting between the Russian delegation, himself, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to discuss that illicit help. When news of the meeting was about to break, Trump and his son drafted a false statement for the press together in order to cover up the true purpose of the meeting. This written offer of illegal help by the Russians and its acceptance by the President's campaign, and the secret meeting that followed, provide some of the most damning and direct evidence of the President's to make use of Russia's assistance in the election. Throughout the summer of 2016, the Trump campaign and candidate Trump himself repeatedly sought damaging information on Clinton from Russia. In July of 2016, Trump publicly called on Russia to hack Clinton's emails, and – as the Special Counsel found – that night, Russian military intelligence officers did precisely that. Our transcripts show that numerous individuals affiliated with or working for the Trump campaign were in communication with individuals offering help to set up private backchannels with the Russian government. Multiple witnesses sought to hide and cover up illicit activity related to Russia during the presidential campaign. One-time campaign advisor and close confidant to Trump, Roger Stone, has been sentenced to prison for lying to the Committee about his advanced knowledge of impending WikiLeaks releases of Clinton campaign information. Former personal attorney to Trump, Michael Cohen, was imprisoned in part on charges that he lied to the Committee about Trump's role in arranging a lucrative business deal in Russia during the course of his campaign and early presidency. The President's pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow – potentially the most lucrative deal of his life – while lying to the American people about his business interests in Russia, provided the most serious counterintelligence risk to the United States. Another associate of Trump, Erik Prince, misled our Committee about his efforts to take part in a secret backchannel with a senior Russian government official while he was unofficially supporting the Trump campaign. And the transcripts also show that during the transition period in late 2016, the incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn undertook efforts to undermine U.S. sanctions on Russia imposed by the previous administration over Russia's interference in the election on Trump's behalf. Flynn would later lie to the FBI about these efforts, and the President would try to pressure then-FBI Director Comey to shut down any investigation into Flynn. It would take the firing of then Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the later appointment of an unscrupulous Attorney General, Bill Barr, for the President to achieve his aim of seeking dismissal of the case against Flynn, and only after Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI.
“Despite taking part in this investigation and hearing these facts first-hand, the transcripts reveal how House Republicans used witness interviews not to gain the facts, but to press President Trump’s false narrative of ‘no collusion, no obstruction.’ It would be a pattern they would follow throughout the Russia investigation and into the President’s subsequent Ukraine misconduct. To that end, House Republicans sought to use the Committee’s Russia investigation to undermine the Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russia sought to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. That assessment has been affirmed by this Committee’s Democrats, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, and Special Counsel Mueller.
“These transcripts should have been released long before now, but the White House held up their release to the public by refusing to allow the Intelligence Community to make redactions on the basis of classified information, rather than White House political interests. Only now, and during a deadly pandemic, has the President released his hold on this damning information and evidence.
“Like the Ukraine investigation that would follow it, the investigation into the Trump campaign’s effort to seek and utilize Russian help in 2016 and to obstruct justice, reveal a President who believes that he is above the law. But we are a country where the truth still matters and where right still matters. Our investigation into the Trump campaign, and the evidence we uncovered despite formidable obstruction, affirms that.”
On September 17, 2018, the Committee voted unanimously to send all transcripts to the ODNI for a nonpartisan classification review by the Intelligence Community, and authorized the public release of the transcripts once the classification review was completed. In March of 2019, the Committee was informed that ODNI intended to share the Committee transcripts with the White House because the White House claimed the transcripts implicated “White House equities.” In response, the Committee directed that the ODNI refrain from sharing the transcripts, which remain Committee property and were shared with the intelligence community only for the purpose of declassification. We urged that ODNI complete the classification review as requested and without any further delay.
In September 2019, the Committee again voted to release the transcripts. Nevertheless, the White House continued to insist on a prior review and the right to redact non-classified matters that it alleged would implicate their “equities.” The Committee continued to reject this unprecedented interference in the classification review, and continues to reject the idea that the White House can exert some after the fact rationale to deprive Congress of the ability to release its own work product to the public.
Only this week, the Acting DNI finally informed the Committee that the White House was abandoning its hold. As of May 4, the ODNI reported that “the interagency review of the remaining ten transcripts has been completed,” and that ODNI completed the redaction process begun 18 months ago. The Committee, after a review of the 53 transcripts which totaled tens of thousands of pages and to avoid any further delays, has allowed all of the redactions proposed by ODNI despite our concerns that the ODNI excessively over-redacted information that has since been declassified.
Redactions applied to the classified and sensitive transcripts released today were the work of the ODNI, not the Committee, and the Committee has accepted all IC-proposed redactions for now. The Committee previously applied limited redactions to all transcripts to protect personally identifiable information such as email addresses, phone numbers, or staff names.