Republicans fear they botched Russia report rollout

Source: Politico | March 15, 2018 | Kyle Cheney

GOP lawmakers are on the defensive after challenging the intelligence community’s findings on election meddling.

House Republicans are privately venting that they’ve fumbled the release of their own Russia probe report.

The blaring headline the GOP wanted from this week’s rollout was clear: After a year of searching, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee found no evidence that President Donald Trump or his associates aided Moscow’s scheme to interfere in the 2016 election but that the nation must still prepare for another assault from the Kremlin.

Instead, much of the focus has been on lawmakers’ startling conclusion that the nation’s intelligence agencies botched their analysis when they determined Russia wanted Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton.

The finding once again pitted the committee’s Republicans against the leaders of the intelligence community and led to a frenzy of news coverage that put members on the defensive. And rather than seizing an opportunity to highlight the Russian threat and undermine lingering questions about the Trump campaign’s Russian contacts, Republicans faced a political headache of their own making.

The muddled messaging was the subject of a closed-door meeting of committee Republicans on Wednesday. According to three sources briefed on the discussion, a frustrated Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) raised pointed concerns about why critiquing intelligence agencies was even mentioned at Monday’s rollout. The finding, after all, won’t be included in the committee’s official Russia report — it will be the subject of a second report issued later in the spring. But the decision to link it to the committee’s Russia findings scrambled the release.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s office also felt compelled to intervene as Republicans offered increasingly scattershot responses in interviews, with some more eager to criticize the agencies than others.

Ryan’s aides convened a meeting with members of the Intelligence Committee’s communications staff on Tuesday, according to two sources familiar with the gathering. The message: Make sure your bosses stick to facts about the intelligence agencies’ findings — and stay focused on the broader point that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and must be stopped from doing it again.

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