More than two years after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee brought the panel's investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference to a close, the committee has released transcripts of 57 closed-door interviews with witnesses in the saga that captivated — and divided — Washington for months.
The transcripts span more than 6,000 pages and include interviews with some of the key figures in the committee's Russia probe, including Donald Trump, Jr., Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. They offer the most granular look to date at some of the central characters and controversies surrounding President Trump, his 2016 presidential campaign and the government officials who investigated both.
Their release comes several days after Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell wrote a letter to Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the committee's chairman, saying the transcripts had been reviewed for classified material and were ready to be made public. Schiff blamed the White House for the delay in releasing the transcripts publicly.
"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," Schiff said in a statement Thursday. "Only now, and during a deadly pandemic, has the President released his hold on this damning information and evidence."
In the early months of the Trump administration in 2017, journalists, camera crews and photographers packed the basement of the Capitol, where a daily battle was waged outside the committee's secure spaces over incremental leaks about which witnesses were due to appear and what those who already testified had said.
Democrats would express public concern about what had been uncovered, occasionally accusing witnesses of being uncooperative and Republicans of being uninterested in the truth. Republicans lambasted Democrats for weaponizing leaks and distorting burgeoning findings with innuendo. Partisanship on the historically bipartisan committee skyrocketed, and turned toxic.
In April of 2018, the committee released a redacted report drafted by Republicans summarizing the committee's findings from its year-long investigation. The report was accompanied by the Democrats' dissenting minority views, detailed in a 98-page document.
Republicans said they had found "no evidence of collusion, coordination or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians," and declared the case closed, even as parallel investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee continued. (Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but described a pattern of interactions between the two; the Senate committee is expected to issue its final volume of findings on the matter later this year.)
Five months later, in September of 2018, both Republicans and Democrats on the committee voted to publicly release the witness transcripts, with a small handful of exceptions and pending a classification review by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Months later, the review process appeared to be stalled as the committee, by then led by the Democrats, objected to ODNI sharing a subset of those transcripts with the White House.
Schiff said the transcripts were the property of the committee and that the White House should not be given the opportunity to claim "overly expansive" privilege to "claw back" information that had been provided to Congress.
The impasse persisted as impeachment hearings into Mr. Trump began and leadership at ODNI was shuffled. It appeared to lift on May 4, when Grenell informed Schiff that the review process had been completed and the transcripts were ready for release. "Pursuant to your guidance," Grenell wrote, the contested transcripts "have not been shared with the White House."
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