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House panel’s initial report says no collusion with Russia

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  • WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have completed a draft report concluding there was no collusion or co-ordination between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, a finding that pleased the White House but enraged Democrats who had not yet seen the document.

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

    “We found no evidence of collusion,” Conaway told reporters, suggesting that those who believe there was collusion 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.”

    Hours later, Trump tweeted his own headline of the report in excited capital letters: “THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE HAS, AFTER A 14 MONTH LONG IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION, FOUND NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION OR Co-ordinatION BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND RUSSIA TO INFLUENCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.”

    Conaway previewed some of the conclusions, but said 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 far different conclusions.

    In addition to the statement on co-ordination with Russians, the draft challenges an assessment made after the 2016 election that Russian meddling was an effort to help Trump. The January 2017 assessment revealed that the FBI, CIA and NSA had concluded that the Russian government, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, waged a covert influence campaign to interfere in the election with the goal of hurting Democrat Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and helping Trump’s campaign.

    House Intelligence Committee officials said they spent hundreds of hours reviewing raw source material used by the intelligence services in the assessment and that it did not meet the appropriate standards to make the claim about helping Trump. The officials 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 just dealing with the intelligence assessment and its credibility.

    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement soon after the GOP announcement, saying it stood by the intelligence community’s findings. DNI spokesman Brian Hale said the office will review the findings of the committee’s report.

    According to Conaway, the report will agree with the intelligence assessment on most other 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. And it will blame officials in President Barack Obama’s administration for a “lacklustre” 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.

    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 openly fought throughout the investigation, with Democrats suggesting a coverup 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.

    The report is also expected to turn the subject of collusion toward the 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 co-ordinated with the Russians, but said the dossier clearly “would have hurt him and helped her.”

    He also said there was no evidence that anything “untoward” happened at a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower 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, which is also investigating the Russian intervention, is expected to have a bipartisan report out in the coming weeks dealing with election security. The Senate panel is expected to issue findings on the more controversial issue of co-ordination 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.

    The congressional investigations are completely separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which is likely to take much longer. It has already resulted in charges against several people linked to Trump’s campaign.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.

    Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press


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    Arts

    Collection featuring Group of Seven paintings donated to University of Lethbridge

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  • LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess spent a lifetime following her passion.

    A lifelong educator and art collector, the Order of Canada recipient bequeathed a collection worth as much as $5 million to the University of Lethbridge following her death at age 100 in 2016. 

    The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery received word last year that Hess had donated her vast collection, which includes works from some of the most well-known artists in Canada and from around the world.

    University president Mike Mahon knew Hess for eight years prior to her death. He said she created a masters-level scholarship for students at the university and her generosity was well known.

    “I’ve seen her generosity in spirit, in volunteerism and in funds over the course of her life,” Mahon said

    “I knew she had an amazing art collection partly because when I would have a cup of tea in her living room you’d be surrounded by the Group of Seven and Emily Carr and others hanging on the wall or stacked against a chair.

    “She had art everywhere.”

    The gallery at the University of Lethbridge, now renamed in her honour, has on display 112 of the 1,140 pieces she donated.

    “It’s really exciting. I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite. It was hard enough to come up with a selection out of the gift to show this summer,” said assistant curator David Smith.

    “What I’ve tried to do is replicate the areas of strength in her collection. More than half of her collection was work by Indigenous artists so more than half the works in this show are Indigenous artists,” he added.

    “There’s a selection of Group of Seven works with Tom Thomson and an Emily Carr piece. They’re really great pieces. The Thomson is particularly exciting. A recent guesstimate says there are only about 75 of those panel sketches left in private hands.”

    There are about 15 Group of Seven paintings safely behind Plexiglas.

    Smith said the remainder of the collection will be displayed in years to come.

    Hess, who was the daughter of a lumber magnate, never married and spent her life collecting art and lecturing on it.

    She received a doctorate of fine arts from the University of Lethbridge and at one point was a member of the university senate.

    “She was very close with A.Y. Jackson. He used to come and stay with her and visit her at her ranch near Cochrane. She’d drive him around to the best spots and they had a really great, lifelong friendship there.”

    Also on display until Sept. 7 is an original sketch by Henri Matisse, a print by Pablo Picasso and the art of prominent Indigenous artists, including Alex Janvier, Bill Reid, Tony Hunt, Jessie Oonark and Helen Kalvak.

    — Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

     

    Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


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    National

    Quebec’s longest-serving legislature member blames PQ for decline of sovereignty

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  • QUEBEC — The Parti Quebecois is partly to blame for the lack of support for sovereignty, according to the province’s longest-serving legislature member, who believes his party has renounced its duty to promote independence.

    Francois Gendron, 73, will retire from political life this fall after 42 years in the legislature — but not without a few parting shots directed at the media, his political rivals and his own party.

    “The PQ has things to blame itself for,” says Gendron, who was first elected in 1976 under former Parti Quebecois premier Rene Levesque.

    In a lengthy interview with The Canadian Press, the politician says he has three words of advice for his party, which was founded to make Quebec a country but has thus far proven incapable of rallying the population to its cause.

    “Go. Talk. Convince.”

    Gendron, a former teacher, believes sovereigntists have to return to the basics of political activism, and show Quebecers what they have to gain from independence.

    His party, he believes, has failed in this scholarly duty, noting that they haven’t produced a single substantial document on the benefits of sovereignty since the last referendum in 1995.

    When asked if he’s scared he’ll never see Quebec become its own country, he responds, “the answer is yes.”

    The outspoken politician had nothing but good words for former Bloc Quebecois leader Martine Ouellet, who stepped down from her party earlier this month after losing a confidence vote. She currently sits in provincial legislature as an independent but has indicated she won’t run in October’s election.

    Ouellet, who was criticized at times for her laser-like focus on independence, is a woman “of conviction,” who wears the cause proudly and knows it inside and out, Gendron says.

    In contrast, he has harsh words for the poll-leading provincial Coalition Avenir Quebec, whose members he describes as “puppets” with no program, and Philippe Couillard’s Liberals, whose “billions” spent on advertising he says ought to provoke a “social crisis.”

    Gendron also blames a highly individualistic culture and a lack of education among citizens for the decline of the independence movement and most other collective efforts.

    “There’s no more culture, no more history, people know just about nothing,” he says.

    Some of his harshest criticism was reserved for the media, which in his opinion is largely responsible for discrediting the noble role of elected politicians through endless commentary that “pollutes the airwaves.”

    “We’re less credible than sex workers and used car salesmen,” he says.

    Gendron, who will not seek re-election in this fall’s election, says that what he’ll miss the most is representing the 35,000 people in his western Quebec riding of Abitibi-Ouest.

    While outspoken on many topics, he remains more discreet when questioned on his party’s possible fate come October.

    He notes, with a touch of disappointment, that the party has lost its foothold in many ridings that were once PQ strongholds. 

    In his decades-long career, Gendron has held a number of cabinet posts, many of them linked to regional development or resource management.

    He was instrumental in creating the first regional development policy in 1982, which he describes as a moment of pride.

    These days, he’s faced with the task of sorting decades of photos, documents, press clippings and memories as he prepares to make his exit.

    “When we stir all this up, madam, it disturbs,” he says. “It comes to get you at an emotional level.”

    Jocelyne Richer, The Canadian Press



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