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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 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 and support Democrat Hillary Clinton. 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 just dealing 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 openly fought 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.

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 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 coordinated 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 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 is also investigating the Russian intervention, and 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 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.

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.

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Walker signs bill impacting school funding for Cornell, New Auburn and Lake Holcombe

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill today that will increase sparsity aid and low ceiling revenue to Chippewa County school districts and about 150 districts across the state.

The bill increases sparsity aid per student from $300 to $400 in the 2018-2019 school year, increasing available aid to the Cornell, New Auburn and Lake Holcombe districts by $43,200, $29,800 and $31,000, respectively. The state aid provides extra funding to rural schools with less than 746 students in a district.

All three schools received less actual funding than their eligible amount last year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI), but funds were no less than $1,500 short of eligibility.

Cornell’s eligibility will increase from $129,600 to $172,800. The New Auburn district will see a jump from $93,000 to $124,000, and Lake Holcombe will see an increased eligibility from $89,400 to $119,200.

Cornell School District Superintendent Paul Schley said the aid will cover about half of the school’s transportation costs for the 100 miles in its district but said the low revenue ceiling increase included in the bill will have more of an impact on the district than the sparsity aid increase.

The new ceiling, also going into effect during the 2018-2019 school year, will increase the bottom maximum spending revenue from $9,100 to $9,400 and another $100 every year until 2022-2023 when it reaches $9,800, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Enacted in the 1993-1994 school year, the ceiling capped the amount a low-spending district could spend per student from taxes and state aid per student. The limit for the ceiling, according to the state DPI, is based on enrollment, inflation and the previous year’s levy.

Schley explained the ceiling has been frozen for a number of years, which meant districts like Cornell that were conservative and tight with their budgets were locked into the same rate as natural changes in economics flowed.

“While it may be equal, it wasn’t equitable,” Schley said.

Local government officials Rep. Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) and Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) were both in support of the bill that passed 90-3 in the Wisconsin Assembly and 31-1 in the Senate.

“Anytime we add additional funding for rural school districts, I feel that’s a positive step in the right direction,” Summerfield said.

Moulton was in favor of adding similar funding changes to the budget before the most recent budget was completed.

“What happened in the past, these conservative school districts were being penalized and locked in at historical low spending amounts,” Moulton said. “(It) increases that ability to generate more revenue… increases their levy authority.”

In a press release, Walker, who signed the bill at Riverdale High School is Muscoda, Wis., cited the impact the bill will have on rural schools.

“Every child deserves access to a quality education, no matter where they live,” Walker said. “The increased funding will provide the necessary resources for rural school districts to address the unique needs they face like enrollment and transportation.”

In terms of other K-12 education laws and bills, Moulton said school safety has been a high priority and concern in the legislature. Allowing schools to add more cameras or security guards are a few of the options Moulton said have been discussed, but the legislature is looking to find “some kind of dollar amount and ideas in that direction to strengthen that aspect.”