Rep. Adam Schiff On Trump's Wiretapping Claims And Russia
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Our next guest made a stark statement about President Trump this week. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff wrote (reading) we must accept the possibility that the president does not know fact from fiction, right from wrong, that wild claims are not strategic but worse.
Schiff wrote that after the president made a claim with no evidence. He said President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower before the inauguration. Presidential Spokesman Sean Spicer did not back up the claim when asked.
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SEAN SPICER: That's at probably a level above my pay grade. But as I mentioned - as I've mentioned, I think the president believes that the appropriate place for this to be adjudicated is for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to have the clearances, the staff, the processes to go through this, look at it and report back.
INSKEEP: House and Senate Intelligence Committees have said they will look into it but haven't said they see any evidence. Devin Nunes, the House Republican Intelligence Committee chairman, called the president a political neophyte whose statements are not always vetted. Adam Schiff, his Democratic counterpart, made that statement we heard and now joins us by way of Skype. Congressman, welcome back to the program.
ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's great to be with you.
INSKEEP: When you say wild claims by the president may not be strategic but worse, what do you mean? What's worse?
SCHIFF: Well, I think people rightly assume that there is no evidence to support what the president is saying and many want to hypothesize that this is just a very clever stratagem, a distraction, in this case to distract from the controversy swirling around Jeff Sessions. And certainly there may be an element of distraction. But I think following on the heels of the president making an equally astounding and baseless claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted and that's why he was deprived of the popular vote - he says these things with such a conviction that, you know, we have to admit the very simplest explanation. And that is he can't separate what is true and what he wants to believe, what, you know, he gets from conspiracy theorists.
And he's willing to express these just bizarre ideas. And frankly this is probably the most troubling prospect of all, that this president can't separate fact from fiction. And in the context of the constitutional scheme of things with separation of powers, his attack on the courts, his attack on the free media, that he also has difficulty separating right from wrong.
INSKEEP: What are the implications of that for you as a congressman?
SCHIFF: Well, the implications are quite extraordinary, and here's where I think this really matters and can't be written off as just a political neophyte. And that is all of the controversies and the crises that have happened within the first several weeks of the president's administration have been internally created. They've been self-made. But we will have a real crisis at some point in this administration, and it will be external. It may come from North Korea. It may come from Iran. But nonetheless, there will be. There always is for every president. And how much credibility will the president have left to persuade the country of what has happened, what needs to be done? How much credibility will he have with our allies to get them to back us up? So these have real-world repercussions. It's not just the president being the president. It's the president losing the credibility of the office.
INSKEEP: Does the president seem especially agitated to you when the subject is Russia?
SCHIFF: Well, absolutely. And you know, I have to say too that some of the things the president has done and said are the most destructive. And from the Kremlin point of view, you could not have designed a better presidential candidate or now incumbent. I think about what he said when Bill O'Reilly asked him, why does he feel the need to defend Putin? Why can't he say anything negative about the man? After all, he's a killer. And the president's response was essentially, are we that different? And now the president says that his predecessor engaged in this illegal wiretap of him. This is exactly what the Kremlin wants to hear because their whole narrative, the story they want to tell to Europe and the rest of the world, is yes, Russia is a thugocracy (ph). We've dismantled our democracy. But you know something? The United States is no better. It's no different. They're just hypocrites. And now we have a president who is basically saying the same thing.
INSKEEP: Congressman, let me just ask, though, you are now engaged in an investigation of this president's ties to Russia, or rather Russian interference in the election, which President Trump won. And one of the questions is, was there some contact between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence or Russian officials? I do want to ask, though, how do you avoid what the president has called McCarthyism? There is all this evidence of the administration not fully disclosing various contacts in meetings, but what if there's no there there?
SCHIFF: Well, look, we have to do a very objective and thorough investigation to find out exactly what the Russians. Now here, it's not as if we still need to figure out was it the Russians, did they interfere in some way? There's no disagreement between the parties on this, and the evidence is rock solid. It wasn't China. It wasn't some 400-pound fat guy. The Russians heavily intervened in our election. They hacked documents. They dumped them. And the nature of the dumping of those documents was universally hurtful to Secretary Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump. Those very basic facts are really beyond dispute. There may be differences of opinion about the mixture of motivations the Russians have, as well as some of the other tools and tactics they may have used. Did they use blackmail?
INSKEEP: But how do you - but how do you avoid a McCarthyite situation where the president can't prove himself innocent?
SCHIFF: Well, you have to do a nonpartisan investigation. At the end of that investigation you have to be willing to say this is what we found or this is what we were able to substantiate, and this we could not substantiate. And this is why it's so important that there be a nonpartisan way through this thicket because at the end of the day we need to come to one common conclusion - Democrats and Republicans on the committee - if it's going to add any value and going to resolve these very important questions.
INSKEEP: OK. We've been talking with Representative Adam Schiff. He's a Democrat from California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which, by the way, will be holding a public hearing March 20 where James Comey, the FBI director, is among the witnesses. Congressman, thanks very much.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.