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Schiff talks Comey testimony, ‘sad day’ for health care

May 4, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
Two of the nation's top national security officials held a closed hearing with congressional investigators on Thursday about what role Russia played in the presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that process. William Brangham discusses that and the GOP health care bill with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: There are at least three major investigations underway into what role Russia played in the presidential election, and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that process. Today, two of the nations top national security officials held a closed-hearing with congressional investigators.

William Brangham has more.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The House Intelligence Committee is one of those investigative bodies looking into Russia’s role in the election. And today, the director of the FBI, James Comey, and the director of the NSA, Mike Rogers, briefed that committee on Capitol Hill.

Joining me now is the top Democrat on that committee, Representative Adam Schiff from California.

Congressman, I can hear in the background, there are some protesters there. I take it protesting the GOP’s passage of their health law. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But before we get to that, I’d like to talk a little bit this hearing today.

You heard from the head of the NSA, the head of the FBI, I know this was a confidential, closed door hearing. Can you share a little bit with us about what you heard today?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-Calif.: Certainly. While I can’t go into the contents, I can tell you the three areas of focus for us, and that is who we have this very public assessment by the intelligence committee — community, rather, that the Russians intervened. They did so to hurt Secretary Clinton, to help Donald Trump. And we are investigating to make sure that the conclusions reached in that report are an accurate reflection of the raw intelligence.

We also want to look at the U.S. government response. Did the FBI, for example, bring the necessary urgency to the task when it discovered the Russians were into computers at the Democratic National Committee and elsewhere?

And then finally, and probably most public interest, we continued to investigate the issue of whether there were U.S. persons, particularly those involved in the Trump campaign, that were somehow colluding or coordinating with this Russian hacking into our democracy.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yesterday, FBI Director Comey testified before the Senate, and he gave a very impassioned testimony, arguing that his investigation both of Hillary Clinton’s email server and of the Russia investigation was absolutely fair. And he argues he would do it exactly the same way again.

Are you confident, from what you heard yesterday and what you heard today, that Director Comey is the right man for this investigation?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I have serious questions about the director’s testimony yesterday. I disagree strongly with the conclusions and the argument that he was making. I don’t think it was at all a choice between speaking or concealing. And the fact the director used such a loaded term like “conceal,” I think really demonstrated the weakness, frankly, of that argument.

The real choice was whether he would abide by the Department of Justice policy of not discussing pending matters right before an election. He violated that policy.

And he also treated the Clinton investigation and the Trump investigation in very different ways. And I don’t think his argument that one investigation was in the early stage, that he disclosed the Clinton investigation only three months after it had begun, and somehow it was different for the Trump investigation holds up after all. In October, the Trump investigation, by his own accounting, had gone going on for three months.

So, I don’t agree with what he said yesterday. At the same time, in terms of going forward, I have to hope he will do a thorough investigation of these allegations concerning the Trump campaign. We, for our part, are determined to follow the facts wherever they lead, and we’re going to have to expect him to do the same.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Congressman, a few months ago, you said there was more than — that there was a good bit of evidence that there had been collusion by the Trump campaign. Later, you seem to indicate that perhaps that wasn’t as clear.

Is there anything more you can tell us today about the evidence that does or doesn’t exist about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

REP. ADAM SCHIF: Well, what I have said is that I think the evidence of coordination or collusion is not purely circumstantial. Unfortunately, I’m not able to go into the particulars of the evidence. But I thought it fair to characterize, at least initially, of where we’re starting out in the investigation.

I do think that the FBI was justified in opening an investigation last year. I think that’s not something, when it involves a major presidential campaign, that they do willy-nilly. And I think they’re justified in continuing that investigation. But, unfortunately, I can’t go into the particulars.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s turn to, obviously, that big ruckus that we hear behind you. A huge piece of news today, that the GOP was successful in passing their piece of health care legislation. What was your — I know you voted against it. What was your reaction to what happened today?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, my predominant reaction is it’s a sad day, I think, for this institution when we would vote and effectively cut off millions of people from access to health care. And when you have the kind of massive cuts to Medicaid that are in this bill, when you’re essentially telling states they can do away with protections for people who have pre-existing health conditions, you’re voting for legislation that you know or should know will mean that millions will lose their access to health care.

We ought to be sad about it. I don’t think the Republicans should be celebrating at the White House about it.

And I will say this, too — it’s not that this is some abstract desire to cut people off from health care. The real motivating force behind my GOP colleagues and the vote today is they want to take the money out of health care system and they want to give it out in the form of a tax cut that will benefit predominantly wealthy people. That’s the tragedy of what we did today. And I don’t think it’s going to pass muster in the Senate. I think that celebration will be short-lived and for good reason.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, Congressman, the president seemed to indicate today at the White House that Obamacare was dead. Do you believe that’s true?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: No, I don’t believe that at all. And what we have seen throughout the country is states that have wanted to make it successful, like my own home state of California, have, and millions of more people now are covered by insurance. The marketplaces work reasonably well, not perfect, and we can still improve it.

But in other states where they wanted it to fail it, willed it to fail, tried to deter people from enrolling. They have largely succeeded in doing that.

The president, for his part, is also determined to try to bring downtown the Affordable Care Act. That’s why they have cut off outreach to young people. They want only older, sicker people to enroll and to raise costs so they can make the case for a repeal. It’s a cynical strategy. I think at the end of the day, the Republicans won’t be able to do this on their own, and shouldn’t.

And I hope it will get us to a place where we can work together on a bipartisan basis to improve the existing system and not do away with in favor of cutting millions of people off from health care.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right. Representative Adam Schiff, thank you very much.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you.

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