House committee to release Russia probe transcripts

Chad Day
Associated Press

Washington – The House intelligence committee voted Friday to release transcripts of more than 50 interviews it conducted as part of its now-closed investigation into Russian election interference during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Among those to be released are interviews with President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his longtime spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, and his former bodyguard Keith Schiller. The panel will also release dozens of other transcripts of interviews with former Obama administration officials and numerous Trump associates, including Roger Stone, who is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation.

The move to release the materials by Republican Chairman Devin Nunes of California, a close ally of the president, will provide the public with 53 transcripts spanning thousands of pages of raw testimony as special counsel Robert Mueller continues his Russia investigation. But not all interviews conducted by the panel are being released.

The panel’s interviews form the basis for the GOP-authored report released earlier this year that concluded there was no coordination between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian efforts to sway the election. Committee Democrats, who voted against approving the report, have disputed its findings, saying the investigation was shut down too quickly and that the panel didn’t interview enough witnesses or gather enough evidence.

Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican who led the investigation in place of Nunes, said he “wanted to declassify or release as much of the underlying data as we could so that not only would they have my conclusion, but they could look at what I was looking at to make up their own mind.”

But Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said some of the most important transcripts – six in total – are still being withheld.

The withheld transcripts include separate interviews with Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, who has attracted attention for his pro-Russian statements, and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who headed the Democratic National Committee when court papers say its computer systems were hacked by Russia.

Conaway said those transcripts were being withheld as a “professional courtesy” extended to members of Congress who participated in the interviews with the understanding they would be confidential.

Democrats say Wasserman Schultz has agreed to the release of her transcript. And on Friday, Rohrabacher told The Associated Press that he hasn’t objected to the release of his. Asked if he would agree to its release now, Rohrabacher said, “I’ll think about it.”

Also being withheld are transcripts of closed hearings with former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey and former National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers as well as the transcript for the committee’s business meeting when GOP members approved their final report.

None of the transcripts, including those set for public release, have been provided to Mueller as part of his investigation, a move Democrats unsuccessfully pushed for on Friday.

“We have suspicions that people testified before our committee falsely and committed perjury, and the special counsel is in the best position to determine, on the basis of the additional information he has, who might have perjured themselves,” Schiff said.

But Conaway said Mueller hasn’t asked for access to the transcripts, and Republicans don’t want to be accused of trying to “skew” the investigation or obstruct justice by sending him materials he didn’t request.

“He’ll ask for it if he wants to. He’s a big boy,” Conaway said, noting the special counsel will be able to review them once they’re public.

The 53 transcripts approved for release will now go to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for a declassification review.

Conaway and Schiff said they didn’t know how long the review would take or when the transcripts would be released to the public. Schiff said Republicans made clear that none of the transcripts, which largely don’t contain classified information, will be released until the declassification review is completed for all of them.