December 20, 2019

Adam Schiff

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff discusses the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history. Schiff explains why he now believes that a failed impeachment is better than none at all. He also discusses the Inspector General’s findings of mistakes in the FBI surveillance application process. In addition, Schiff warns about the threat of disinformation campaigns in the 2020 elections.

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He’s the public face of the Trump impeachment. This week on Firing Line.

SCHIFF: Donald J. Trump sacrificed our national security in an effort to cheat in the next election. // And for that, he must be impeached.

As the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff has become one of the most recognizable politicians in the country. 

MONTAGE: MADDOW: Congressman Adam Schiff // CARLSON: The Adam Schiff show // HARLOW: Adam Schiff  // Adam Schiff // Adam Schiff

The investigator behind President Trump’s impeachment, Schiff says the evidence left him with no choice.

PELOSI: Article I is adopted [gavel] // Article II [gavel] is adopted. 

But with the electorate divided and Congress split along party lines. 

SCHUMER: The House has built a very strong case against the President.

MCCONNELL: House Democrats have rushed forward with a case that is much too weak.

What does Chairman Schiff say now?

Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by the Margaret and Daniel Loeb Foundation. Robert Greenery through the Vanguard Donor Advised Fund, the David Tepper Charitable Foundation. Additional funding is provided by corporate funding is provided by Stephens Inc. 

HOOVER: Welcome to Firing Line Chairman Adam Schiff. 


SCHIFF: Thank you. 


HOOVER: You are the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the Democratically controlled committee that ran the impeachment hearing for President Trump. At what point in the process did you, Mr. Chairman begin to be convinced that the president had committed impeachable offenses?


SCHIFF: I don’t know that I can pinpoint a specific day or testimony because the plot really unfolded during the course of the investigation. What made the investigation so unusual, having been a prosecutor many years ago. This is very much analogous to a white collar, complex criminal case. Those cases are almost always very document driven. But here, the administration completely stonewalled our investigation. They said we’re not going to give you any documents. We’re not gonna make any witnesses available. But because of the courage of a number of public servants who defied the White House and came forward and testified, we learned about this effort to shakedown the president of Ukraine, to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance, to get Ukraine to help the president cheat in the next election. I don’t know when, during the course of those depositions, the evidence sort of went over the overwhelming point. 


HOOVER: Are you continuing to investigate? 


SCHIFF: We are.


HOOVER: And if you were to receive more evidence or to obtain more evidence, would that be able to become part of a Senate trial?


SCHIFF: Yes, the body of evidence continues to grow. What we learn, what others admit, will be part of the body of evidence presented to the Senate.


HOOVER: Since the closed door and the open door hearings began, you’ve seemed publicly pretty convinced of Trump’s guilt and Republicans on the committee have seemed convinced of his innocence. What is it like to sit next to Devin Nunes? What is the tone and tenor like on the committee between you and the ranking member?


SCHIFF: Well, first of all, I would not concur that Republicans are convinced of the president’s innocence. The Republicans really just don’t want to look at the evidence. They don’t want to defend the president. Most the time they don’t try to defend the president. Most of the time they don’t try to contest the evidence of the president’s guilt. Rather, what they’re doing is trying to deflect attention away from the president’s guilt and frankly, deflect attention away from their own unwillingness to do their constitutional duty. And they do that by doing what the president does, which is simply attacking other people. And that’s what often ranking member Nunes does. But he’s not alone in that. In terms of my own relationship, working relationship with Mr. Nunez. I will tell you, and this is a good news, bad news of the situation. Bad news is our differences on the president’s misconduct are on ample display. The good news is that the remainder of the work of the committee, which is extremely important — the oversight of the intelligence agencies, the fashioning of their budget, the promulgation of new laws to protect people’s privacy — all of that work, that oversight work that goes on every day in the committee gets rolled into a single bill, the Intelligence Authorization Act. And we were able to produce that bill year in, year out through thick and thin. It came to the floor and got 397 votes, an extraordinary bipartisan result for a issue, intelligence oversight that is enormously complex and often controversial. So we have been able to compartmentalize our differences. And that’s the good news. That’s an untold story.


HOOVER: Moving ahead to the trial in the Senate, there’s a rare point of agreement between you and President Trump, which is that he has indicated that he would like a lengthier trial and he would like witnesses to be called. The witnesses that you would like to be called and that he would like to be called somewhat different. He would like to see Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and the whistleblower testify. And he has also said that you should testify in a Senate trial. Why is it that you think the president wants a more extensive trial?


SCHIFF: Well, I don’t think we should assume that he does. As we often see with this president, what he says and what he really means are two completely different things. He said, of course, that he wanted to answer Bob Mueller’s questions and he was happy to do it. But then he didn’t. He at one point said he wanted to testify in our Ukraine investigation, but of course, he didn’t. Mitch McConnell is the best guide into what the president really wants. And Mitch McConnell is saying he doesn’t want any witnesses. He has also, McConnell has said, that he and the president aren’t exactly the same page. So how do you square those two things? And the way you square them is it may very well be the president doesn’t really want witnesses. The president knows that what Mick Mulvaney would have to say, what John Bolton would have to say, what others would have to say, would be deeply incriminating of him. But he wants to give the public perception of wanting a trial, when what they really want is only the appearance of a trial.


HOOVER:  I’ve heard you say that you have no basis to be a fact witness. But if you are called to testify, will you?


SCHIFF: There’s no basis to call me as a witness. And I think even McConnell and the Republicans have recognized that. You know, the only reason to even put me on a list is because Donald Trump thinks it’s a good rhetorical attack. He also wants to call the speaker of the House. I mean, it’s absurd. But nonetheless, there are too many Republican members willing to go along with the absurd. Now, there are members of the Congress who are, in fact, fact witnesses. Mr. Nunes is one. Lindsey Graham is one. Senator Johnson is one. These  are people who have had conversations, in the case of the senators, with the president about Ukraine, about withholding of military aid. And we didn’t seek to call them in the House Intelligence Committee. We didn’t want to make a circus out of it. Course, the president’s interest is in the circus.


HOOVER: Do you think it would be a circus, then, to clarify what the whistleblower said to your committee.


SCHIFF: I think the goal with the whistleblower is different than putting me on the witness list. The goal…


HOOVER: But that’s why they want you, right? Because the whistleblower approached your committee.


SCHIFF: No, the reason they would like to call me as a witness as just to have a chance to attack me. Nothing more. I don’t know who the whistleblower is, so I don’t add much value in terms the whistleblower. The reason they want the whistleblower on their witness list is they want to out the whistleblower. They want to punish the whistleblower. And in so doing, they will endanger the whistleblower.


HOOVER: Mitch McConnell said there is no chance that the president will be removed from office. Is he right to be so confident?


SCHIFF: He is not right to be so biased, before there is even a trial. Not right to foreclose hearing from witnesses that would shed additional light on the president’s misconduct. In so doing, he’s basically surrendering his institutional role to be a coequal branch of government, and acting like the president’s lieutenant. And that’s a deep disservice. When the next Democratic president comes along, and Mitch McConnell wants to do oversight, is he prepared to say, ‘you don’t need to answer our subpoenas, you 

can just ignore them the way Donald Trump did, because we are a paper tiger now. The Congress has no oversight power.’ Is Mitch McConnell ready to do that? Because that is the position he appears to be taking. And it is one that will fundamentally alter the balance of power indefinitely and in a way that will make corruption in the Oval Office far more likely.


HOOVER: We’ve mentioned how so far the impeachment process has been intensely partisan and that’s not expected to change in the Senate. I would like to take a look at something you said in March, roughly a month before the Mueller report came out about what happens when an impeachment becomes a partisan exercise. Let’s take a look.


SCHIFF IN MARCH: What will be necessary to make an impeachment a  bipartisan process would have to be extraordinarily clear and compelling. In its absence, an impeachment becomes a partisan exercise doomed for failure. And I see little to be gained by putting the country through that kind of wrenching experience, as I’ve often remarked in the past. The only thing worse than putting the country through the trauma of an impeachment is putting the country through the trauma of a failed impeachment. 


HOOVER: Have your views changed?


SCHIFF: They have changed, but also we ended up finding that overwhelming evidence of the president’s misconduct vis a vis Ukraine in the testimony of 17 witnesses that were completely consistent with each other, the overwhelming evidence. So the body of evidence changed and the calculus for me also changed in that, this is the most serious and egregious misconduct to date, something we were not aware of at the time of that breakfast. And I will have to amend what I said earlier about there being nothing worse than a failed impeachment. And that is no impeachment at all. when the president believes that he is above the law, no accountability at all. Ultimately, if the Republicans failed to live up to their constitutional duty, it doesn’t relieve us of our obligation to do our duty.


HOOVER: If it were to be the case that he acted with increased impunity the day after a Senate acquittal, would it be your obligation and your duty to continue to pursue another course of impeachment if another phone call or something even worse presented itself?


SCHIFF: Well, look, the president is a serial offender. He has shown a pattern of misconduct, first as a candidate for the presidency, inviting Russian intervention in our affairs. And then as the president, he seeks to get yet another foreign nation to intervene in another election. So what if he continues this course of conduct? I don’t know what the remedy is. Which is why it’s so important that he not be permitted to continue this kind of misconduct. He did feel that he had complete license after Mueller testified to do whatever he wanted to, to be above the law. And we have to show the president he’s not above the law. He is accountable. Any president is regardless of party. I would hope that if this were Barack Obama and he had committed half these acts, that I would be out there urging his impeachment. It shouldn’t be any different for my Republican colleagues that this is a Republican president.


HOOVER: I have a question for you regarding your view of Vice President Pence. Gordon Sondland testified that he told Vice President Pence about his concerns about the quid pro quo. Sondland testified ‘I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations. So not only did Gordon Sondland verify that Mike Pence knew about the quid pro quo. He also has refused to cooperate with Congress by refusing to hand over documents that have been subpoenaed. So the two articles that are being presented for the president’s impeachment also raise problems that the vice president’s conduct. Do they not?


SCHIFF: They do. And there’s something more. And that is Jennifer Williams, who is on detail to the vice president’s office, national security career person, supplemented her testimony with a classified submission. Now, that submission goes to what the vice president knew or any role the vice president may have had. We have asked the vice president to declassify it. There there’s no basis to classify this information. It is not a basis to classify information to essentially hide it because it is incriminating or embarrassing. Those are not reasons to classify material. The vice president claims that he is willing to release his phone call with President Zelensky. This supplemental information goes to that phone call. But nonetheless, he is refusing. And the American people should see what’s in that supplemental testimony. And we’re going to fight to make that happen.


HOOVER: And are you saying then that you have serious concerns as well with vice Presidents Pence behavior and conduct?


SCHIFF: I’m saying the American people should know just what the vice president knew and when he knew it and whatever role the Vice President played in this game.


HOOVER: As you may know, Firing Line, the original program, William F. Buckley Jr. hosted for 33 years between 1966 and 1999. A guest on that program was Elliot Richardson, who was the attorney general appointed by Nixon, who refused to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor. Richardson was a guest on this program a few months after he resigned and he suggested that Nixon made a mistake in exerting executive privilege as much as he did. Let’s take a look.


ELLIOT RICHARDSON: He [Nixon] started out with a very firm, stubborn determination –

MR.BUCKLEY: Principled position.

MR.RICHARDSON: – that he was not going to breach the principle of confidentiality, for the sake not simply of his own presidency but for the sake of the office. And he dug himself in on that, and then at each point where he made a concession he thought that it was a more adequate concession to public opinion than it proved to be. He was really feeding the appetite for more rather than satisfying it.


MR.RICHARDSON: And, of course, it’s obvious, at least now, that what he needed to do was to sate the appetite for disclosure.

MR.BUCKLEY: Yes, yes.

MR.RICHARDSON: Put the whole mass out there and say, in effect, you know, “Eat all you want.”


HOOVER: Both President Nixon and President Trump have exerted executive privilege as a way of covering up what many believe to be improper behavior. Have President Trump and President Nixon undermined the legitimate exercise of executive privilege, in your view?


SCHIFF: Certainly, and President Trump has gone well beyond anything that President Nixon did, because in the first instance, the president is not even yet claiming executive privilege. He is claiming absolute immunity. That is, these witnesses don’t even need to appear to assert a privilege as to this question or that document. They can refuse. They’re absolutely immune from even showing up. Now, that idea has never been upheld by court. But what the president is trying to do is delay as long as possible. So we cannot allow a president to stonewall Congress’s oversight, particularly during an impeachment investigation, by endlessly drawing things out in court.


HOOVER: The inspector general has just released a report and it reveals serious failures on behalf of the FBI into how they conducted the FISA warrant process and surveillance into former Trump advisor Carter Page. You have said that there were serious abuses to the FISA process and that they need to be corrected and we need to make sure this never happens again. What went wrong and why did it go so wrong?


SCHIFF: According the inspector general, a lot of things went wrong in the conduct of the FISA applications. Most significantly, a lower level FBI lawyer fabricated something that went into one of the applications. But there are a host of other things, too. So there were a series of mistakes, and I think the inspector general has set out a number of recommendations as correctives. But it’s important also to acknowledge what the inspector general also said, which is that he could not conclude that these mistakes were owing to any kind of political bias either for or against the president. That’s been a claim by the president and his supporters for a long time, as was the claim that the whole investigation was politically biased from the start. It was improperly begun. It was all based on the Steele dossier. The inspector general debunked all of that, but nonetheless found very serious problems with these FISA applications.


HOOVER: You remember the dueling memos, you and Devin Nunes had, dueling memos about the FISA process. Yours read: “FBI and DOJ officials did not abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process, omit material information or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign. In hindsight, do you regret writing that? 


SCHIFF: Well, I don’t regret that because at the time that’s what we knew. Now, two years later, 170 interviews later, two million documents later, we learn there were serious problems. I will also say, though, that at the time, two years ago, and since, I have continued to make the point that the investigation was properly initiated. That has now been confirmed by the inspector general, that it was not driven by political bias, that there was no illegal wiretapping of Trump towers. That’s been confirmed. All of these allegations by the president, by Mr. Nunez and others have been debunked. But, those that had  questions about the FISA applications, the subsequent investigation by the inspector general has borne out those problems and they’re very real.


HOOVER: But then, does it give the American people pause to wonder about Congress’s oversight responsibilities? 


SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think there are good reasons for the public to be concerned by what’s been revealed about these particular FISA applications.


HOOVER: Especially because you felt so strongly.  I mean, your statement was a very strong statement. And yet it turns out that there were real problems, as you’ve admitted. 


SCHIFF: Well, look, it is certainly true that two years ago when we looked into this matter, we weren’t aware that a low level FBI lawyer had misstated information in the FISA application. There was no way for us to know that at the time. It does mean that we’re going to have to demand much better of the FBI and the people that work on the FISA applications. We’re going to have to try to identify ways that Congress can get more information, in the process. But this broadside attack on the FBI, I think is far more damaging because attacking the FBI as scum, which is what the president has been doing, means that jurors in cases throughout the country who see an FBI agent on the stand now are going to think, well, the president says they’re scum so maybe I shouldn’t believe the FBI. Yes, there were mistakes and a lot of them with this FISA application, but the vast majority of men and women working at the bureau do phenomenal work, high quality work, and an often dangerous work, and that should not be lost sight of.


HOOVER: Carter Page says that the FBI spying into his life ruined his good name. That’s a quote.He also says that he will, quote, never completely have his name restored. Do you feel any sympathy for Carter Page?


SCHIFF: I have to say, you know, Carter Page came before our committee and dissembled for hours of his testimony, denied things that we knew were true, later had to admit them during his testimony. It’s hard to be sympathetic to someone who isn’t honest with you when he comes and testifies under oath. It’s also hard to be sympathetic when you have someone who has admitted to being an adviser to the Kremlin.


HOOVER: But then was also informing the CIA.


SCHIFF: Yes. Yes. 


HOOVER: Which we didn’t know about.


SCHIFF: Who was apparently both targeted by the KGB, but also talking to the United States and its agencies. And that should have been included, made clear. And it wasn’t, according to the inspector general.


HOOVER: One thing that I found remarkable was that in the closed door testimony of Fiona Hill, she said that she was concerned that the so-called Steele dossier may have revealed that Steele himself may have been played by the Russians. And it brings up this subject of disinformation. She said it is, quote, very likely that Russians planted disinformation in and among other information that may have been truthful because that’s exactly, again, the way they operate. And I think everyone should always be cognizant of that.


SCHIFF: It is certainly the way the Russians operate. Whether they did this with Christopher Steele, I think is purely speculative on Dr. Hill’s part. And I’m tremendously impressed with her. And I think she’s a phenomenal Russia expert. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Russians had a goal in the 2016 election. And their overriding goal was to help the Trump campaign damage Hillary Clinton and divide the American public. And so you have to ask, where does Christopher Steele fit into that from the Russian point of view? If they’re trying to help Donald Trump, then this information wasn’t helpful to Donald Trump. So it runs against that motivation.


HOOVER: Looking at the 2020 election, if we if we suspect that the Russians will attempt to intervene in the 2020 election using disinformation as they did in 2016, what do you think is the best way to combat these disinformation campaigns?


SCHIFF: Well, I think it’s by undertaking the civic duty to make sure that the information we’re operating on is good and solid. 


HOOVER: How do we do that? 


SCHIFF: Well, I think you go to reliable and trusted sources. You don’t simply accept everything that is sent to you in social media. And you know, to give you a good illustration, one of the things that I’m deeply worried about in the next election is that the Russians will use deep fake technology, that is video and audio technology that allows you to create utterly fraudulent yet perfectly convincing videos or audio of people saying things that they never said. When people doctored that video of Nancy Pelosi six months ago and pushed it up, millions of people saw that. Now a small number of those millions will learn that that was doctored. The rest will think it was real. That was what we call a ‘cheap’ fake because any teenager could probably do that, but there are very sophisticated government made, AI produced artificial intelligence produced videos that are indistinguishable from real. And you launch one of those into social media. You could do it practically anonymously in the run up to an election of a candidate saying something sexist or racist or simply dismissive of key voters, it could be election altering.


HOOVER: You mentioned the video of Speaker Pelosi. Facebook refused to take that video down. Should they have?


SCHIFF: They should have. They should have. And I’ve discussed this with with Facebook and made the point they need to be ready for the next election. And things that they know are deliberately false and fake, intended to deceive, to defraud, should violate their policy.


HOOVER: Well, they are going to be on the front lines of the 2020 election. They will have probably the first indication of encouragement from foreign adversaries. What responsibility do they have?


SCHIFF: They have a grave responsibility. I mean, there was a time. I know the social media companies wanted to say we play no role. We don’t want a role in looking at content, even when we know it’s false and fraudulent, misleading. Over time, I think they have recognized. No, they have a civic duty to perform. And if they’re not willing to perform and if they’re not willing to be good corporate citizens, then there’s no reason they should have immunity from liability. I mean, why should they be immune for false content when a newspaper is not immune for its false content? And so they’re at deep risk of losing that immunity and they should lose it if they’re not going to do their civic job. So I think they’re coming around to this recognition. It’s been slow in coming. But they need to be ready for what’s to come next year because the Russians aren’t going to stop.


HOOVER: Congressman Schiff, thank you for coming on Firing Line. There’s much more to talk about. I hope we can have you back. 


SCHIFF: Thank you. Look forward to it. 


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