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Schiff: ‘Big problem’ if President Trump is making up his wiretap claim

March 20, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
While Democrats and Republicans pursued sharply different lines of questioning in a House Intelligence hearing Monday, ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff focused in on contacts between Trump campaign advisors and Russian officials. Judy Woodruff talks with Schiff about his main takeaways from the hearing, as well as the credibility of President Trump and the intelligence community.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn now to the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California.

Congressman Schiff, welcome back to the program.

What’s the main thing that you think was clarified at today’s hearing?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-Calif.: Well, I think a number of things.

First, I think Director Comey made the case that he had opened an investigation into potential agency with a foreign power or coordination with a foreign power. That’s not done unless there is specific and credible information or evidence that someone is colluding.

I also think that it was significant that you had two directors directly rebuff the president’s claims that he was illegally wiretapped or wiretapped at all by his predecessor.

But more than that, I think the main takeaway, I hope, for the country from the hearing is a recognition of just what serious business this is, because, as Director Comey says, the Russians will do this again. And we really need a thorough investigation to determine just what the Russians did, how did they do it, were there U.S. persons involved, and how do we protect ourselves from their future efforts to interfere?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I hear you say this, Congressman Schiff, and yet President Trump tweeted today that Admiral Rogers and the FBI director, Jim Comey, told Congress that Russia didn’t influence the electoral process in the United States last year.

So, that doesn’t seem to square with what you just said.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, it didn’t square with what the witnesses said at the hearing either. And that was pointed by my colleague Jim Himes, who followed up with both directors and did some real-time fact-checking on the president.

And, of course, that’s not what the directors said. The directors can’t really comment. It’s not their mission, their job or their expertise to say what effect the Russian interference had in terms of outcomes, but clearly they interfered with the electoral process.

And here’s the problem. If the president is going to distort what the intelligence community says in open hearing, how can we have confidence when the president comes before the country to share what the intelligence agencies have told him in closed, classified session, because the country needs to know, because the president wants to take action, where the president needs to decide what the response should be to North Korea or around Iran?

How can we have confidence that the president is being truthful? And the short answer is, if he keeps this up, we can’t. And that’s a real danger to the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what does that mean, Congressman Schiff? What are you saying you’re worried that could happen?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, the best example I can give is, let’s say, six months from now, the president says that Iran is cheating on the nuclear deal.

Obviously, if Iran isn’t cheating, that’s a big problem. If he’s making this up, the way he’s making up the claim that Barack Obama wiretapped him, that’s a big problem. If the president is telling the truth, in a way, it’s a bigger problem, because, will he be believed?

Will he be believed by the American people? Will he be believed by our allies that he needs to rally to reimpose sanctions or take some other action against Iran? Each time the president undermines his own credibility, he weakens himself, he weakens the institution of the presidency, he weakens the credibility of the entire country and our standing in the rest of the world.

And when there is a crisis, we pay a dear price for that loss of credibility.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the other hand, Congressman, Republicans on the committee today were calling into question whether the intelligence community can be relied on.

They — question after question was about leaks coming from the intelligence community and anyone who had access to that information. The president, President Trump, is saying what the intelligence community says is fake news. He’s dismissing it.

Republicans are saying they’re leaking all over the place. So, I guess my question — and then you also had Congressman Trey Gowdy, your Republican colleague on the committee, saying that perhaps the FISA court, the courts that authorize much of their investigation, may be in trouble.

Are you confident that an investigation is going to be thoroughly carried out here?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, on the leak issue, first of all, I think we have to understand just the breadth of what people are talking about when they talk about leaks.

The leaks that most concern me, that ought to most concern the country is when information is leaked that betrays sources and methods of information that our allies — well, that expose us to danger, because our enemies can then perpetrate attacks because we lose those confidential sources of information. Those are the most serious leaks.

What seems to really upset the administration is a different kind of leak. It’s a leak that exposes malfeasance within the administration. What really upset the president wasn’t the fact that Mike Flynn was unmasked to the country and that Mike Flynn was exposed as having lied to the country and the vice president about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

What really upset the president was that, essentially, he was caught in the lie. And you will remember, even after firing Flynn, he wanted to praise Flynn and castigate the press.

That’s something very different. That’s a leak that discloses malfeasance in the administration.

And I would say, look, this leak problem, every administration has it. And one of the things my GOP colleagues didn’t want to acknowledge today — and the president certainly doesn’t want to acknowledge — is, they can say we think, we fear, we suspect this is coming from the intelligence community. They’re a bunch of Nazis.

That’s essentially the president’s original tweet on this. But it’s also very possible that some of these leaks are coming from the White House itself, and a division among people, staff in the White House…

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean from the Trump White House?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: From the Trump White House, exactly, because, of course, the Trump White House knew this information as well.

And there have been lots of public reports about how there’s infighting among the Trump administration and to watch your back. Well, maybe somebody wanted Michael Flynn out among the president’s own team. I don’t know that that’s happened, but if we’re serious about this, I would say to my GOP colleagues, be careful what you wish for, because the trail may lead right back to the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you. And we will be talking to you again, I know.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you.

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