Senate Panel Agrees: Russia Meddled in 2016 Election

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said Wednesday that his committee’s investigation had shown Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Donald Trump, affirming findings of the U.S. intelligence community. 

“We see no reasons to dispute the conclusions,” the North Carolina Republican said. “There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections.”

Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, applauded the intelligence community and said, “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated and ordered by President [Vladimir] Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”

Burr said the panel reached the conclusion after staff members spent 14 months “reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work.” 

The announcement came hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee released more than 2,500 pages of transcripts regarding a June 2016 meeting that included representatives of Trump, including his son Donald Jr., and a group of Russians who promised damaging information about Clinton, the eventual Democratic presidential nominee.

The Republican-led committee released a collection of testimony, notes and other information that were compiled from the eight people who attended the meeting at Trump Tower in New York.

Mueller probe

The meeting is being scrutinized by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading an investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election and into whether President Trump obstructed justice.

The transcripts reveal Trump Jr. told the Judiciary Committee last year that he could not recall whether he’d discussed the Russia probe with his father. Trump Jr. also said he didn’t think there was anything inappropriate about the meeting.

In addition to Trump Jr., the meeting was attended by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; then-campaign manager Paul Manafort; Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya; Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin; Anatoli Samochornov, an American citizen who has translated for Veselnitskaya; Ike Kaveladze, a businessman from the former Soviet republic of Georgia; and British publicist and music promoter Rob Goldstone, who helped arrange the meeting.

The transcripts, based on oral and written testimony to the Judiciary Committee, also reveal:

 Lawyers for Trump Jr. attempted to coordinate public remarks after revelations about the meeting. The transcripts show that even before reports of the meeting surfaced in the media, Trump Jr. attorney Alan Futerfas started contacting a number of meeting participants to ensure their accounts were consistent.
 Goldstone, who had promised Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya would provide harmful information on Clinton, told the committee he made the offer after being assured Veselnitskaya was "well-connected" and had "damaging material."
 Six months after the meeting, Goldstone proposed a second meeting with Veselnitskaya and Trump's team. Goldstone said he reached out to Trump's executive assistant at the request of Russian-based billionaire Aras Agalarov, who has a personal relationship with Putin. The second gathering did not take place.

In response to the latest transcripts, Trump Jr. issued a statement saying, “The public can now see that for over five hours I answered every question asked and was candid and forthright with the committee.”

Lawyer not interviewed

The Judiciary Committee did not interview Veselnitskaya, but the panel released her written responses to a letter that committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent her last year.  The committee was also not able to question Kushner or Manafort, although it disclosed one page of notes that Manafort took during the session.

The White House has acknowledged the president was involved in drafting an initial statement after media outlets broke the news of the meeting. The statement said the meeting was largely focused on a Russian adoption program. Later, however, Trump Jr. released emails showing he agreed to the meeting after he was promised dirt on Clinton.  

Manafort is facing more than a dozen unrelated criminal charges related to his overseas lobbying activities, including conspiracy to launder money and evade income taxes.

The transcripts and other information released by the committee are available here.

— 17/05/2018

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