The timing of Tuesday's news from Capitol Hill proved particularly striking. The Democratic National Convention was already in its second day. The GOP holds its virtual gathering next week. Thirty-five U.S. Senate seats are up for election in November, two and a half months away.
Despite all that, or maybe because of it, the Republican-run Senate Intelligence Committee released a fat final report that further torpedoed GOP President Donald Trump's denials and deflections about Russia's role in the 2016 campaign. The 1,000-page volume gives the public one more reliable sign of Trump's routine alienation from truth.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not always entertained Trump's whims, especially where Vladimir Putin's Russian regime is concerned.
The report's bipartisan authorship gives it extra authority. The volume reinforces the findings of former special counsel Robert Mueller at a moment when Trump, trailing in his reelection bid, was trying to find a magic way to retroactively erase the scandal.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president,” the report states.
As is widely known, Putin in 2016 was pulling for Trump, and members of Trump's campaign team were open to his help, the report said. That much was implied anyway from the president's statements, including his disturbing indication in June 2019 that he'd accept foreign help again.
"If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent' — oh, I think I'd want to hear it," Trump said. What followed, of course, was the scandal that got him impeached — using State Department clout to try to smear putative Democratic rival Joe Biden by muscling Ukraine, an adversary of Russia.
Trump famously peddled to the Ukrainian president a far-fetched story about a missing computer "server" that somehow implicated Democrats. In fact, the DNC and its hired cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike had provided the FBI with duplicates of information from its hacked server, instead of the machine itself.
The committee explodes the contrived suspicions behind this in probably its worst hit to Trump's already damaged credibility.
“The committee notes that using forensic images of compromised systems is standard protocol in cyber investigations, because it removes the chance that information on the compromised systems could be altered or deleted by mistake," the Senate report says. "Ultimately, the F.B.I. got what it needed, including the forensic images from CrowdStrike.”
The final Senate report documented many contacts between the Trump campaign and allies of the Kremlin. One of them was Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of Trump's convicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The report plainly identified Kilimnik as a “Russian intelligence officer.” This tie posed a “grave counterintelligence threat," the report said.
Apart from the main thrust of the report, Trump and the GOP got a talking point to play up. The GOP-controlled committee targeted former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who wrote what were known to be unprovable opposition-research memos.
“Steele’s reputation as a productive F.B.I. confidential human source and [words redacted] led to the F.B.I. treating the memos as credible before they were corroborated, and F.B.I.'s vetting process for Steele himself was not sufficiently rigorous or thorough," the report said.
But there was ample evidence that Russia worked for a long time to curry influence with Republicans, the report said. As for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, his "previous ties to Russian intelligence officers, coupled with his Russian travel, justified the F.B.I.'s initial concerns about Page,” the committee said.
So no, the probes weren't witch hunts. They didn't "find nothing," as Trump & Co. asserts. The prosecutions weren't illegal. And, no, there's no evidence that, as Trump keeps claiming, Obama and Biden "spied" on the president's campaign.
The stench of foreign interference was pungent. And Trump's chances to have a legitimate party scrape up evidence buttressing his fantasies of sinister plots appear to have slipped away for good. This might be as close as his critics will get to proving a negative about his conspiracy theories.