The Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe gave inconsistent answers during an interview Sunday regarding whether the committee investigated potential collusion between the Trump campaign in Russia.
At one point, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) distinguished between “evidence” of collusion and collusion itself.
“That’s a different statement,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “We found no evidence of collusion.”
Conaway, who took over leadership of the probe after committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) became the subject of an ethics investigation, announced last week that he was ending the fact-gathering stage of the probe and sending a draft report to committee Democrats for their review.
Among the conclusions listed on a one-page summary of Republicans’ draft: “We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
Conaway seemed to back away from that claim Sunday.
In his interview with the Republican congressman, Todd asked whether ousted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s closed-door testimony before the committee in December had backed up ousted FBI Director James Comey’s contention that Comey was fired because of the Russia probe.
“It’s been a while since I sat through that testimony, I haven’t read it recently,” Conaway said.
He continued, tellingly: “We were focused not so much on that, because that feeds into the collusion issue, and our committee was not charged with answering the collusion idea, so we really weren’t focused on that direction.”
“No evidence of collusion,” Conaway said later, repeating a point that Democrats on the committee have said was not sufficiently investigated. Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said separately Sunday that Democrats will “certainly be able to show the facts supporting the issue of collusion,” and he’s previously said committee Democrats will release their own report on the probe.
“No evidence of collusion,” Todd repeated back to Conaway. “But if you’re not investigating collusion, then you haven’t sought the evidence.”
“That’s all we investigated,” Conaway said, contradicting himself. “We didn’t investigate his obstruction of justice issue. That’s what we investigated: Was there collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or between the Clinton campaign and the Russians?”
Among the committee’s March 2017 agreement on the parameters of its probe was the question: “Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. Persons?”
Schiff on Tuesday released a lengthy document outlining what he said were insufficiently-pursued leads and interviews following Conaway’s announcement that the probe would conclude.
Todd asked Conaway about one person on Schiff’s list whom the committee never interviewed: George Papadopoulos, a named member of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team who’s pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s investigators about his 2016 contacts with several Kremlin-tied Russians.
Papadopoulos, Conaway responded, had been “caught up in the Mueller investigation” and unavailable to be interviewed. Besides, he said, Papadopoulos “was kind of at the edge of the circumstances.”
“How do you know that if you didn’t interview him?” Todd asked.
“All the other information we got, and all the information we got about him, that talked about him, he was not somebody that seemed to be a player in the long term,” Conaway responded.
“Do you now regret trying to draw a conclusion about collusion?” Todd asked.
“No,” Conaway said before explaining: “Well, we haven’t drawn that. What we said, Chuck, is that we found no evidence of it. There may– That’s a different statement. We found no evidence of collusion.”
Conaway said later, characterizing Democrats’ protests about the committee ending its probe: “The collusion issue, we found no evidence of it. The Democrats think they have. They’ve not shared that with us, if they have. I’ve shared all of my evidence we’ve got with them, but if they’ve got evidence of collusion, they haven’t shared it with us.”