Senate has uncovered no direct evidence of conspiracy between Trump campaign and Russia
After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.
But investigators disagree along party lines when it comes to the implications of a pattern of contacts they have documented betweenTrump associates and Russians — contacts that occurred before, during and after Russian intelligence operatives were seeking to help Donald Trump by leaking hacked Democratic emails and attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on social media.
"If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don't have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview with CBS News last week.
Burr was careful to note that more facts may yet be uncovered, but he also made clear that the investigation was nearing an end.
"We know we're getting to the bottom of the barrel because there're not new questions that we're searching for answers to," Burr said.
Democratic Senate investigators who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity did not dispute Burr's characterizations, but said they lacked context.
"We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, 'Hey Vlad, we're going to collude,'" one Democratic aide said.
The series of contacts between Trump's associates, his campaign officials, his children and various Russians suggest a campaign willing to accept help from a foreign adversary, the Democrats say.
House Republicans announced last year they had found no evidence of collusion, but their report came under immediate criticism as a highly partisan product that excluded Democrats. Now in power, House Democrats recently announced an expanded probe that will go beyond the 2016 election to examine whether any foreign government has undue financial influence on Trump or his family. And New York federal prosecutors are pursuing their own criminal inquiry related to hush-money payments to women. The investigations into Donald Trump, therefore, are far from over.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting the sole bipartisan inquiry, led by Burr and ranking Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia. The committee has sifted through some 300,000 documents, investigators tell NBC News, including classified intelligence shedding light on how the Russians communicated about their covert operation to interfere in the 2016 election.
U.S. intelligence agencies assess that the operation began as an effort to sow chaos and morphed into a plan to help Trump win. It included the hacking and leaking of embarrassing Democratic emails and the use of bots, trolls and fake accounts on social media to boost Trump, criticize Democrat Hillary Clinton and exacerbate political differences.
Predictably, Burr's comments led Trump to tweet that he had been fully vindicated, which is not the case.
"Senator Richard Burr, The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, just announced that after almost two years, more than two hundred interviews, and thousands of documents, they have found NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA!" Trump tweeted Sunday. "Is anybody really surprised by this?"
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