Representative Tom Rooney (R-FL) has broken rank with his party after the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, concluded its investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, saying they have found no evidence that Russians colluded with any members of the Trump campaign. Rooney, who sits on the committee, told CNN that he believes the committee has lost its credibility.
"We have gone completely off the rails, and now we're basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day's news," Rooney said during an interview on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."
Rooney further pleaded with his colleagues to come together before this year's midterm elections. (Rooney himself announced last month that he will not seek re-election.)
"If we don't get any of these recommendations out before this cycle gets fully underway, then we really have just completely wasted a year of everybody's time," he said. "Hopefully we can salvage something positive out of this."
Rooney noted that Republicans are still drafting their report, which is expected to conclude that there is no evidence that Russian operatives interfered in the presidential election to help Trump win. It's likely the committee will release two competing reports: one from Republicans concluding that there is no evidence of collusion at all, and another from Democrats that not only argues for collusion but also points out the avenues the Republican-led committee did not investigate.
CNN's Erin Burnett then proceeded to press Rooney on the issue.
"We've gone completely off the rails, and now we're just basically a political forum for people to leak information… https://t.co/bTJyMCUzaP— OutFrontCNN (@OutFrontCNN)1520898030.0
"I just want to be clear here. The intelligence community had originally said that they believed that the Russian intent was to hurt Hillary Clinton, but as it became clear that Donald Trump was a viable candidate, they then took it further," she said.
She continued: "They wanted to explicitly help Donald Trump. So you're saying you do agree? You do concur with that conclusion by the intelligence community which they are standing by tonight?"
"I believe there's evidence of everything that you just said," Rooney responded. "But I also believe there's evidence to where they were trying to wreak havoc on both sides." (He would later note that he had seen classified evidence that the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton, but planned to withhold it until after the election because they expected her to win.)
Burnett then read Rooney remarks from Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX), who leads the Russia investigation. Earlier, Conaway told CNN's Manu Raju:
"The bottom line: The Russians did commit active measures against our election in '16, and we think they will do that in the future. We disagree with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump.
When Burnett asked Rooney if his statements on the program placed him at odds with his fellow Republicans on the committee, Rooney said they did not:
It's not completely the opposite. I think there were efforts to try to hurt Hillary and help Trump, but I think there was also the opposite too. I think their goal was to create mayhem so that any candidate that won––and they did believe Hillary was going to win––was to have that person bloodied and weakened so they would be able to use that in the future against us. I think there is absolutely evidence to show though they were trying to help Trump at some point, but also they were also trying to hurt our side as well. There is evidence of both sides.
Rooney's comments come scarcely a couple of weeks after he called for an end to the House Intelligence Committee's investigation, arguing that the only purpose of the investigation is to fuel the media narrative and partisan bickering for the Democratic Party.
"That's why tonight I've asked our Chairman [Mike] Conaway that we need to end this investigation," he told CNN's Erin Burnett at the time. "It's been going on for a year."
He added: "We've interviewed scores of witnesses and now we've gotten to the point now where we're literally bringing people in for nine hours just so the Democrats can leak to the press something as ridiculous as 'white lies.'"
Rooney was referring to former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who turned in her resignation a day after nearly nine hours of private testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, during which she admitted to investigators that her work for the president had occasionally required her to tell white lies. Her fealty to the president did not protect her in the end, according to anonymous sources who spoke to the press, and Trump nonetheless scolded her after she’d given her testimony.
The president, meanwhile, took the news that the House Intelligence Committee ended its investigation as another opportunity to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference. The decision to end the investigation comes as Mueller's probe appears to be accelerating.
THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION OR COORDINATION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA TO INFLUENCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION," he tweeted, writing in all capital letters.
THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION… https://t.co/cdRy6HvVZS— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1520902167.0
This prompted a response from California Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who accused Republicans of lacking "the courage to stand up to a President of their own party when the national interest necessitates it."
This was not the finding of the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. President, but only a statement by its GOP member… https://t.co/3QGw2YJT20— Adam Schiff (@Adam Schiff)1520904182.0
In a statement, Schiff criticized Republicans for ending the House investigation:
While the majority members of our committee have indicated for some time that they have been under great pressure to end the investigation, it is nonetheless another tragic milestone for this Congress, and represents yet another capitulation to the executive branch. By ending its oversight role in the only authorized investigation in the House, the Majority has placed the interests of protecting the President over protecting the country, and history will judge its actions harshly.
BREAKING: GOP just shut down House Intel investigation, leaving questions unanswered, leads unexplored, countless w… https://t.co/qAgjtjtUtc— Adam Schiff (@Adam Schiff)1520896101.0