WASHINGTON — The House’s top Democrat investigating Russia’s election meddling on Tuesday declared that in many ways President Donald Trump is “far more grave a threat” to American democracy than the Kremlin.
Rep. Adam Schiff cited a litany of actions by Trump, from appointing Cabinet officers with “direct conflicts of interest” and goals of dismantling their agencies to limiting Muslim immigration and discrediting federal judges.
As for the president’s own possible jeopardy, Schiff said Trump is trying to disparage the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller and the congressional panels that are investigating possible coordination between his campaign and Russia in the election that put him in the White House.
“So no matter what is produced, he can say it’s a fake,” the California congressman said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“I do feel our democracy is under threat,” Schiff said. Trump’s approach to governing, he said, “is a serious problem and in many respects far more grave a threat than anything coming from outside the country.”
The interview came as Trump jetted across the global stage on his first official trip to Asia. But back in Washington, FBI and congressional probes continued to churn. Trump has insisted that the FBI investigation, including the federal indictments of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of former adviser George Papadopoulos, have nothing to do with him.
“It’s disappointing, though hardly surprising, that Adam Schiff would make hysterical and demonstrably false comments about the president, and then claim to be objective in his oversight duties,” said Raj Shah, White House principal deputy press secretary.
Schiff also had sharp words for Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet — Google’s parent company — who he said were stonewalling investigators about sharing data that could possibly link the Trump campaign to Russian interference.
Among the questions Schiff said the social media companies could help resolve is whether Americans were surreptitiously targeted by the Russians in ways that were “sufficiently specific and overlapping” that they would have required input directly from the Trump campaign.
When the companies were asked for such information, Schiff said: “They were noncommittal, but we will continue to press them.”
Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, also suggested that Russian contacts with Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page were part of a larger Russian effort to infiltrate the Trump campaign and that WikiLeaks served as a Russian proxy to leak damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton without involving Trump campaign aides directly.
Asked if his House panel was investigating the president personally, Schiff said it was not focused on specific people. But he also said the probe could focus on Trump himself.
“No one is off the table,” Schiff said.
As House Democrats have pursued their focus on Trump and his campaign, House Republicans, urged on by Trump, have launched their own investigation of Clinton and her role when she was secretary of state in the sale of a uranium mine to Russia. Schiff accused House Speaker Paul Ryan of giving his “blessing” to a coordinated effort to handicap the Russia probe.
“I think the speaker, ultimately the buck stops with him. And whatever he is allowing, he is blessing. And in this case what he is blessing is an effort that I think was orchestrated by the White House and its external allies to distract from the Russia probe,” Schiff said.
He also said it will be difficult to stave off efforts by the Russians — or others — to interfere with the next presidential election as long if the White House doesn’t help get to the bottom of 2016 and Trump still denies there was interference to help him.
In the meantime, he said, the time for clarity about the 2016 election is now.
“We don’t wait until there’s a constitutional crisis. We need the White House to get the message now that there will be a dramatic pushback should he try to fire Bob Mueller,” Schiff said. “I think we’re all going to be held to account one day for what we did when our democracy was under threat.”