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Draft GOP report: No coordination between Trump and Russia

WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have completed a draft report concluding there was no collusion or coordination between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia, a finding that is sure to please the White House and enrage panel Democrats.

After a yearlong investigation, Texas Rep. Mike Conaway announced Monday that the committee has finished interviewing witnesses and will share the report with Democrats on Tuesday. Conaway is the Republican leading the House probe, one of several investigations on Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

Conaway previewed several of the report's conclusions.

"We found no evidence of collusion," Conaway told reporters Monday, suggesting that those who believe there was are reading too many spy novels. "We found perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment in taking meetings. But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, or meetings or whatever, and weave that into sort of a fiction page turner, spy thriller."

The congressional investigations are completely separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, which is likely to take much longer. Unlike Mueller's, congressional investigations aren't criminal but serve to inform the public and to recommend possible legislation.

The public will not see the report until Democrats have reviewed it and the intelligence community has decided what information can become public, a process that could take weeks. Democrats are expected to issue a separate report with much different conclusions.

In addition to the statement on coordination with Russians, the draft picks apart a central assessment made by the U.S. intelligence community shortly after the 2016 election — that Russian meddling in the campaign was intended to help Trump. Committee aides said they spent hundreds of hours reviewing raw source material used by the intelligence services to make that claim and that it did not meet the appropriate standards.

The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the intelligence material. Conaway said there will be a second report dealing only with the intelligence assessment and its credibility.

Democrats have criticized Republicans on the committee for shortening the investigation, pointing to multiple contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia and saying they have seen far too few witnesses to make any judgment on collusion. The Democrats and Republicans have fought openly throughout the investigation, with Democrats suggesting a cover-up for a Republican president and one GOP member of the panel calling the probe "poison" for the previously bipartisan panel.

The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, suggested that by wrapping up the probe the Republicans were protecting Trump. He called the development a "tragic milestone" and said history would judge them harshly.

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," Schiff said.

According to Conaway, the report will agree with the intelligence assessment on most details, including that Russians did meddle in the election. It will detail Russian cyberattacks on U.S. institutions during the election and the use of social media to sow discord. It will also show a pattern of Russian attacks on European allies — information that could be redacted in the final report. It will blame officials in former President Barack Obama's administration for a "lackluster" response and look at leaks from the intelligence community to the media.

It will include at least 25 recommendations, including how to improve election security, respond to cyberattacks and improve counterintelligence efforts.

The report also is expected to turn the subject of collusion toward the Hillary Clinton campaign, saying an anti-Trump dossier compiled by a former British spy and paid for by Democrats was one way that Russians tried to influence the election. Conaway did not suggest that Clinton knowingly coordinated with the Russians, but said the dossier clearly "would have hurt him (Trump) and helped her."

He also said there was no evidence that anything "untoward" happened at a 2016 meeting between members of the Trump campaign and Russians, though he called it ill-advised. Despite a promise of dirt on Clinton ahead of the meeting, there's no evidence that such material was exchanged, he said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee also is investigating the Russian intervention, and is expected to issue a bipartisan report dealing with election security in the coming weeks. The Senate panel is expected to issue findings on the more controversial issue of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia at a later date.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, also investigating the meddling, is expected to release transcripts soon of closed-door interviews with several people who attended the 2016 meeting between the Trump campaign and Russians. It's unclear if the Judiciary panel will produce a final report.

editor's pick
Book sale hosted by retired school personnel ends 39-year run

For 39 years it was all about the books.

Mysteries and sci-fi and cookbooks and history books. Self-help tomes and coffee table anchors and craft guides. Poetry and large-print, fiction and non-fiction, romance and aviation, all sorted and arranged neatly on covered tables.

For years, people cleaning out and cleaning up, those moving or making room brought armloads and tubs and boxes full of used books to the Lincoln Area Retired School Personnel.

The retired teachers and nurses, custodians and bus drivers stored thousands of books and puzzles, records and cassette tapes and CDs in storage units. 

Several times a year, they got into those storage units, sorted the books and displayed them for their book sales.

For the last 18 years, it’s been a labor of love for book sale chairwoman Wauneta Peterson, who spent 38 years teaching physical education at Belmont and a host of other elementary schools.

Two years ago, she let her fellow retired school members know she would be stepping down as book chair, but nobody volunteered to take over the time-consuming work of managing all those books.

And so, when the doors close to this week’s sale at 2737 N. 49th St., that will be it.

“Nobody else stepped up,” Peterson said. “You know, I hate it, but I can’t store all these books here.”

On this last book sale, the tables, tablecloths and carts are for sale, too, though the tablecloths are already sold.

When the doors close for good Saturday, they’ll give all the books away to retirement homes and day cares, to dialysis and cancer centers, Lighthouse and the Child Advocacy Center and the City Mission.

Not one of those books will end up in the landfill. That’s a promise.

“At least somebody’s going to get something out of it,” she said.

She’s sad the sale will end, but knows it’s a lot of hard, physical work and the 250 members are getting older. Peterson just turned 80. They just celebrated one member’s 100th birthday.

Peterson isn’t exactly sure how the sale started nearly four decades ago, but figures somebody thought it would be a good moneymaker.

And it has been. In its heyday, the book sales generated $15,000 to $20,000, she said. They’re not so lucrative anymore, but still fund four $1,000 scholarships for education majors. At one time, they also gave $500 scholarships to student teachers, too, as well as donations to various youth-related organizations.

Over the years, they've had other money-making ventures, but the book sale was a constant.

The first few years, it was held at East Park Plaza, then for about 30 years at Gateway.

The last few years it's been in a former dentist and doctor's office, in a building owned by a regular book sale attendee who knew the group was looking for a new site.

The group holds four book sales a year, two at the north Lincoln office building and two at the Lancaster Event Center.

For years, the group had five storage units to hold the books. Recently, it consolidated to three.

Peterson has fielded calls for years — sometimes five a day — from people looking for somewhere to donate books.

“The people loved it because they felt their books were doing something good for someone else,” Peterson said.

Over the years, sales have dipped for a number of reasons, but they’ve always had regular customers, those looking for a good deal on a good book.

“We have some of the same customers over and over and over again, but I can see that (sales) have fallen quite a bit,” she said. “But I still am happy to see people who like to read and have a book in their hands.”

The group will still have a scholarship program, though likely won’t be able to fund four a year. Not without the books.

“I enjoy the setting up and sales part,” Peterson said. “I’m really going to miss it.”

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Canadian ambassador sees positive NAFTA outcome

The continuing renegotiation of NAFTA by the United States, Canada and Mexico eventually will end well because "everyone has a lot to gain" by strengthening and protecting the trade agreement, Canada's deputy ambassador to the United States said Monday.

"No relationship on this planet is more economically important" than the trade transactions that occur between Canada and the United States every day, Kirsten Hillman said during an interview in Lincoln.

Two-way trade between Nebraska and Canada reached $2.4 billion in 2015, she said in celebrating what her nation is promoting as the Canada-Nebraska Partnership, a trade relationship that is particularly tied to Nebraska's agricultural products.

Hillman, who was Canada's chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, will speak at the Yeutter Institute Symposium on International Trade on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump has insisted on renegotiation of the NAFTA pact, claiming it has worked to the disadvantage of U.S. economic interests.

Updating the trade agreement provides an opportunity to "make sure it makes sense in today's economy," Hillman said.

"There is a recognition that the promise of international trade hasn't been fulfilled for everybody in the same way," she said, but some of that is because of the mechanization and globalization of the economy since NAFTA was created 25 years ago.

Renegotiation provides "a huge opportunity (to) make sure it makes sense in today's economy," Hillman said.

"There's lots of positive momentum" in the current talks, she said, and reason to believe that "all three countries will be satisfied" by the end results.

Hillman said she's looking for a "win, win and win outcome (for all three countries) at the end of the tunnel."

Among officials joining Hillman in Lincoln was Paul Connors, consulate general of Canada who is stationed in Minneapolis.

The Canadians came armed with a packet of material pointing to the importance of the NAFTA trade relationship for Nebraska.

Canada and Mexico are the two largest importers of Nebraska's agricultural products. Agricultural exports to Canada from Nebraska totaled $301 million in 2016.  

More than 57,000 jobs in Nebraska are tied to trade and investment with Canada.

The NAFTA renegotiations are a reminder that "this is a relationship that we should not be taking for granted," Hillman said.

"There's a lot of incentive for everyone to succeed," she said.