Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee say the panel has finished investigating Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, and concluded there was no collusion between the Kremlin and President Donald Trump's campaign.
In a draft report released to the media late on March 12 that was hailed by Trump but immediately rejected by the committee's Democrats, committee Republicans said they agreed that Russia sought to influence the election by spreading propaganda and false news reports on social media.
However, they disputed the findings of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation that Moscow sought to aid Trump, who won a surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
A spokesman for the U.S. director of national intelligence said on March 12 that the agencies stood behind their conclusions, which were reached last year.
Representative Mike Conaway, the Republican committee member who has led the panel's investigation for the past year, revealed the report's findings to news media and said the committee had concluded the interview phase of its investigation.
"We found no evidence of any collusion," Conaway told reporters, adding that "bad judgment, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings" with Russians was the only error they found was committed by Trump's campaign staff.
While Trump hailed the Republican draft report as a breakthrough in a post on Twitter, Representative Adam Schiff, the top committee Democrat, said he strongly disagreed with the report and said the GOP's move to shut down the investigation was "premature."
Schiff said publishing conclusions exonerating the Trump campaign even as several former Trump officials have been indicted or have pleaded guilty to charges related to the Russia investigation amounts to "capitulation" under pressure from the White House.
The House committee investigation is one of three main congressional probes into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election and attempted to coordinate with Trump's campaign.
Its deliberations have been marred for months by partisan wrangling, including the release of rival Republican and Democratic memos related to the probe.
The House Republican announcement came even as U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been stepping up activity in his investigation into alleged Russian meddling, including issuing several major indictments against former Trump campaign aides and securing cooperation agreements with other top aides.
Republicans on the committee had been saying for weeks that they were near the end of the interview phase of the probe and they would release their findings.
Democrats have accused committee Republicans of shirking the investigation to protect Trump and improve prospects for their party in congressional elections scheduled in November.
Republicans currently control both houses of Congress, but early polls show they face a difficult fight to retain their majority in the House.
'Clear And Overwhelming' Evidence
Schiff said the committee's investigation was not complete, but evidence so far had been "clear and overwhelming" that Russia sought to boost Trump, hurt his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and sow discord during the election.
"Credible allegations of Russian money laundering, remain barely touched," he said. Republicans "proved unwilling to subpoena documents like phone records, text messages, bank records, and other key records so that we might determine the truth about the most significant attack on our democratic institutions in history," he said.
Trump has repeatedly denied collusion between Russia and his campaign, while Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the election.
Conaway accused Democrats of seeking to prolong the probe ahead of the mid-term elections. Democrats have said they will issue their own report on the Russia investigation.
"There's opportunity for this investigation to go on forever, if in fact you don't want to come to any conclusions...if you want to make hay in the run up to the election," Conaway told the Reuters news agency.
The Republican announcement shifts attention to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been conducting its own investigation. Republicans and Democrats have both described that probe as far less partisan than the House committee's.