During an CNN interview on Friday, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) was pressed on the House Intelligence Committee’s conclusion that Russia did not try to help Trump win the 2016 election — one that contradicts conclusions reached by the intelligence community, special counsel Robert Mueller, and even the Trump administration, which announced new sanctions against Russia this week.
Stewart, one of the Republican lawmakers who serves on the committee, responded by expressing skepticism about the notion of cause and effect in a two-party system.
In the interview, CNN host John Berman pointed to the indictment that Mueller’s office recently issued to 13 Russian individuals and three companies for well-funded “interference operations targeting the United States.”
“The indictment makes clear that ultimately by that date — mid-2016 — that this group [the Russia-based Internet Research Agency] and others listed in the indictment were trying to help then-candidate Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton,” Berman said. “The House Intelligence Republicans just came out and said you’ve seen no evidence of that… How can both things be true?”
In response, Stewart said he’s not convinced that by hurting Hillary Clinton, Russian hackers and trolls were actually trying to help Trump.
“I agree with you that these individuals, and frankly, as I said, others wanted to hurt Hillary Clinton — there is no question about that,” Stewart said. “But by doing that, they end up helping Donald Trump, and the question is, what comes first? Or what is their primary motive? It’s a little bit about, you know, can we climb in Vladimir Putin’s mind and really understand his motives here?… I just don’t think that we can know that.”
Berman pushed back — noting that while the statement released by Republicans on the intelligence committee announcing the end of their Russia probe said they found “no evidence” that Russians were actually helping Trump, the special counsel’s indictment indicates Mueller thinks he can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Stewart dodged the question, saying he’s “not going to comment on the special counsel,” before pointing out that the indictment also indicates Russians agitated on behalf of Bernie Sanders — a fact entirely consistent with the idea that Russia was trying to help Trump by damaging Clinton.
Stewart has spent months downplaying evidence that Russia helped Trump win the election. During an interview with Anderson Cooper earlier this week, he said intelligence officials who concluded that Russia helped Trump “just got it wrong… like they did in the Gulf War when they said there were weapons of mass destruction and we didn’t find them.”
During an interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur in January, Stewart dismissed Tur’s observations about Trump’s efforts to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign with casual sexism, saying, “Katy, I know you and I see the world differently… men are from Mars and women are from Venus.”
Weeks earlier, Stewart went on CNN and said he found nothing suspicious about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton because “US citizens meet with Russians every single day.”
On January 5, Stewart explained away Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ false testimony about his contacts with Russians during the campaign, saying he believes Sessions “simply forgot” about numerous meetings with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Stewart’s defense of Trump goes beyond the Russia investigation. During a March 2 interview with Wolf Blitzer, Stewart said he has no concerns about the Trump family’s unprecedented commingling of their private business and their officials duties because “my understanding is all the members of the Trump family have separated themselves from those business dealings… There’s no evidence that they haven’t been transparent.”