Case closed? House Intel Committee ends collusion probe

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 12, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. MIKE CONAWAY, R-TEXAS: We have interviewed all of the folks we need to. We've looked at some 300,000 documents, 73 interviews that we've done across the course of this thing, trying to answer the four questions that we set out for the committee to answer. Yes, the Russians tried to interfere with our election process. Yes, they had cyberattacks, active measures going on. We could find no evidence of collusion between either campaign and the Russians. We also have some recommendations, will have recommendations that speak to what we do with elections going forward.


JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS: Texas Congressman Mike Conaway who was leading the Russia investigation at the House Intelligence Committee saying that his findings in a draft report, the final report to come, find no collusion between the Trump campaign or the Clinton campaign and Russia.

Let's bring our panel in: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at National Review; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist. How important do you think this finding is, Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: I don't think it's that important. I think we kind of knew if there was real evidence of collusion we would have heard about it by now. There's been so much journalistic exploration of this, there have been so many committees, something would have leaked.

I think in many ways that this is just simply going to be factored into the noise on both sides as Democrats are already coming out saying that it was called off early. I am sure Donald Trump is going to say this is proof that there was no collusion.

ROBERTS: I am surprised it has taken this long.

GOLDBERG: And so I think there are real, the whole ball game depends on what the Mueller investigation finds on way or the other, and I will still be surprised if they find collusion.

ROBERTS: I asked Conaway this question, is there any reason to expect that Mueller could find something different than the committee found?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: He might. But I think there are some important things in here. There are things both parties could applaud. Number one, there was interference. Number two, we are not doing enough to protect ourselves from the next round of it and election systems should be hardened against it. And this is a pattern of Russian attacks that have occurred.

That is something that is widely held and it's a good place to start, collusion aside.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: The House Intelligence Committee has actually been focused on Russia longer than most people. They were worried about Russia long before it became something in the headlines. So when this committee comes out with something about Russia, you should take it seriously.

It is interesting they are talking about recommendations for what to do for elections. We have an election coming up this week. We've had elections recently. People need guidance on how to make sure that their election systems are properly taking care of.

It's also worth, though, taking a step back and thinking about the larger narratives that we've seen here. We have been subjected to over a year of a Russia collusion theory that Trump was a traitor who was colluding with Russia. We have no evidence from this committee and they have been looking at it quite a lot.

And then we also have this issue of the criminal leaks we have seen from all Obama officials and other highly placed intelligence officials. And they give some indication we will get a little bit of information. They are not in the best position to prosecute the criminal leaks that we have seen that we know exist because we read about them in the paper, but that's something that's going to need to continue to take place even as states and other groups start working on their electoral system.

ROBERTS: By the way, no tweet from Donald Trump on this. The president hasn't yet weighed in.

There were obviously complaints from Democrats, Jonah, that this got wrapped up too quickly. You will remember a little less than a year ago there was controversy over Devin Nunes who was the chairman who had an ethics complaint filed against him. He stepped aside to let Conaway take over, and he was cleared on the ethics investigation. The way that Conaway has comported himself, does it leave him less open to criticism that he possibly might've been?

GOLDBERG: It might. We are in such a hyper-partisan moment that there's going to be criticism no matter on all sides. And look, I agree with Mollie that this should be taken seriously. But part of the problem here with the exception where it says that they broke with the intelligence community's assessment about the Russians wanting to have a preference for Trump.

ROBERTS: They just thought they were generally sow chaos.

GOLDBERG: I think they were until they thought could actually win and then they leaned that way. I don't think it was a big difference because when you actually look at what the tweets and social media were, they were more pathetic than overpowering. But almost all of this is the general Washington consensus at this point.

HEMINGWAY: That's actually not true. We are still in the midst of this complete Russia hysteria. It is true that "Saturday Night Live" is making fun of the idea that there is big treasonous collusion, but we still have a special prosecutor dealing with all of this.

GOLDBERG: How is any of that not true about this? What I'm saying is that everybody except the president of the United States has admitted and says that Russia messed with our elections, right?

HEMINGWAY: But what is also being said is that Trump is a traitor.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but that's not part of the consensus. That's not part of the Washington consensus. That's not even remotely part of the Washington consensus.

HEMINGWAY: I think people should be on record, if they don't think it's true they should say that that's not true because that's actually what a lot of people have been hearing for over a year.

GOLDBERG: That's fine, but that is no way a rebuttal of anything I said.

LIASSON: There is a bigger national security issue that if you listen to the president, it's not important and it didn't happen. This says Russia intervened, they tried to sow discord, they are going to be at it again. That's pretty important.

HEMINGWAY: But the reason why President Trump is talking about that is because people have used this story for partisan political ends.

LIASSON: I don't know --

HEMINGWAY: I think that what most people see when they see the media coverage of this is that people have tried to use this to delegitimize the president, and this has been part of a pattern of behavior by intelligence officials and people in the media to create and a lot of angst over this story precisely to delegitimize him.

GOLDBERG: But this fits the consensus of his consensus of his entire cabinet, of his entire national security establishment.

ROBERTS: I'm going to call the buzzer on this one because we do want to get on to the school violence policy, the school safety policy that the White House came out with yesterday. Everything that he's been talking about except raising the age for buying a long gun. The president tweeting on age, "18 to 21 age limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting, states are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support to put it mildly." Mollie, is he backing down in the face of enormous opposition from the NRA?

HEMINGWAY: Yes, and that's good. When he was speaking last week, he was saying that due process didn't matter for taking away people's guns. He was talking about age limits for young people for buying rifles. Those are not popular ideas and those are things he would get a lot of pushback on.

ROBERTS: But these are things that were adopted in the state of Florida.

LIASSON: Yes, and the state of Florida, which is a pretty pro-gun state. I think when you look at polls about the age limit, 87 percent, 72 percent, Rasmussen, which was the lowest poll I could find, had 67 percent supporting raising the age limit. This is the same age limit for handguns. So I think there's lots of public support. The president is right, there is not a lot of political support among Republicans in Congress. That's true.

ROBERTS: Does it look like a cave, Jonah, because the NRA came out and very loudly was against this, advertisements?

GOLDBERG: It depends on your level of hostility here. I don't think he necessarily caved because he says things in these meetings that he then then walks back all of the time. Bu tthe actual thing they are proposing, I think they all make sense, they are good. I think some of then, the Fix NICS thing, they are basically saying now we really mean it that government officials are supposed to uphold the law.

LIASSON: Incentives to follow the law.

GOLDBERG: Pathetic, but might as well.

LIASSON: Yes, they're pathetic. And look, this is better than nothing and every Democrat will say the same thing.

ROBERTS: Isn't it ironic.

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