Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, will take over the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, announced Thursday.
Conaway, a member of the House Intelligence subcommittees overseeing the National Security Agency and the CIA, has expressed skepticism about the intent of Russian meddling.
In perhaps his most public moment on the committee, he grilled FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers during a hearing early last month about how they knew Russia interfered to help Trump rather than just to undermine the US democratic process.
He used a sports analogy to demonstrate his point.
“My wife’s Red Raiders are playing the Texas Longhorns,” Conaway said. “She really likes the Red Raiders. But all the rest of the time, I mean the logic is that because [Putin] really didn’t like … Clinton, that he automatically liked Trump. That assessment’s based on what?”
Comey replied that the FBI’s assessment that Russia wanted Trump to win was “based on more” than the fact that Putin didn’t like Clinton. But he acknowledged that that was “part of the logic.”
If you like the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Comey said, “whoever the Red Raiders are playing, you want the Red Raiders to win, and by definition, you want their opponent to lose.”
Conaway replied that “we don’t know exactly when you guys decided” it was the case that Russia preferred Trump. He argued that the intelligence community’s January report on Russia’s election interference – which concluded that Russia interfered to “undermine the public faith” in the US democratic process – seemed to differ from its conclusion in early December that the Russians interfered specifically to help Trump win.
Conaway asked why, according to the January report, the intelligence community’s confidence that the Russians wanted Trump to win was “lower” than its confidence that Russia interfered to undermine American democracy.
Rogers replied that the NSA’s assessment had affected that overall confidence level because the agency disagreed with the rest of the community on the “level and nature of the sourcing on that one particular judgment.” Broadly, however, both the NSA and the FBI agreed that Russia interfered to help Trump, he said.
Nunes, who was leading the Russia investigation at the time, echoed Conaway’s assertion that the intelligence community had changed its assessment from December to January.
“I don’t agree with that,” Comey replied. “We didn’t change our view from December to early January.”
“So it’s your statement to us then that the FBI was consistent in its assessment that [Russia] intended to help Trump – that’s your testimony this morning?” Conaway asked.
“Correct,” Comey replied.
The back-and-forth over Russia’s motivations for interfering in the election came after Comey announced at the beginning of the hearing that the FBI was investigating whether the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russians to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI is investigating Russia’s interference in the US election,” Comey said, which “includes whether there was any coordination between the [Trump] campaign and Russian efforts.”
He added: “This will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed. I can not say more about whose conduct we are investigating.”