Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff Weighs In On Mueller's Election Interference Warnings
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Robert Mueller's first public statement in two years added fuel to that already vigorous debate about whether or not President Trump should be impeached because of the findings in the Mueller report. But the first thing Mueller spoke about was the Russian attempt to influence the 2016 election.
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ROBERT MUELLER: Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.
CORNISH: Nine minutes later, Mueller ended by talking about the same thing.
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MUELLER: And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments - that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.
CORNISH: We turn now to California Congressman Adam Schiff. He's chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Welcome to the program.
ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's great to be with you.
CORNISH: So far, are you satisfied with how your colleagues in Congress have responded to the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 elections?
SCHIFF: No, I'm not satisfied at all. And I think it is very telling that Mueller began and ended on the same note, which is, you know, in the debate that we have about impeachment or the campaign's interaction with the Russians, let's not lose sight of the fundamental fact that the Russians interfered in a systemic way. And, I think, implied in that is they may very well do it again. In fact...
CORNISH: Where is the legislation on this, to your mind?
SCHIFF: Well - you know, I think that, first and foremost, we need to make sure that there is a whole of government approach, not just the Congress but in the administration as well to safeguarding our polling places, to looking at the voting technologies, to make sure that they're backed up with a paper trail, that we employ every deterrent we can with the Russians, that we make sure that our agencies - our intel agencies are trained on what the Russians are doing, their plans and intentions.
I know in the Intel Committee, that's exactly what we're trying to do. But I think it's negligent that we don't have a national requirement for paper trails in voting places around the country. We have tried to pass that through the Congress and had Republican opposition. It seems a very fundamental step, and I think it's quite negligent of us not to take it.
CORNISH: At the same time, you've been focusing heavily on President Trump in your committee. Does that mean that you guys have essentially taken your eye off the ball when it comes to election security?
SCHIFF: No. In fact, our focus post-Mueller report and even pre-Mueller report has been on the counterintelligence findings of the investigation. This began not as a criminal probe but as a probe into whether people around the president or the president himself were compromised by the relationships with Russia. And of course one of the relationship we've been most concerned about has been the financial relationships between the Trump Organization and the Russians, the effort to build construction projects in Russia and conceal them from the country. Is this part of the reason why the present administration has not been willing to stand up to Russia?
So these are inextricably linked. It's not just a question of securing our polling places, as important as that is. But it's also a question of whether our whole policy towards Russia is being warped by some form of compromise, financial or otherwise.
CORNISH: I want to switch gears now because you've said that you still want special counsel Mueller to testify before your committee. He has said, you know, I'm resigning, that he wouldn't go beyond what is written in the report. Would you subpoena him? Is it important to you to have him in person?
SCHIFF: It is important, I think, for the country to have him in person, to have him answer questions about his investigation. He has a unique voice in all of this.
CORNISH: But why if he said he won't go beyond what's written in the report?
SCHIFF: Well, I think he needs to go beyond what's written in the report. And I understand that he is deeply reluctant to come before Congress and have to answer questions. But he has one more service yet to perform. And he should be fully within his rights to say I'm not going to answer hypotheticals or to deviate from positions that he's taken in the report.
But there are a great many facts outside of the report that are also very important the American people. And one of them we've been talking about, and that is, what happened to the counterintelligence investigation? Where did that lead? Where are the reports that were documented and mentioned in the report that you did; that these counterintelligence agents embedded in your team sent back to headquarters? These are all important questions that go to the vulnerability of our country to compromise among its officials. And he should come and answer those questions.
CORNISH: Are you currently in negotiations with Mueller and his team to have that happen?
SCHIFF: We have been in negotiations with his team. And I think that the statement yesterday was an effort to say, OK, I've decided that this is really all I want to do. But those negotiations are going to have to continue because I think it vitally important the country hear from all of the significant witnesses, and that includes Bob Mueller.
CORNISH: Right now would you issue a subpoena for Bob Mueller to testify before the House Intelligence Committee?
SCHIFF: That's a decision that will be above my pay grade. I think we're going to convene when we get back - we're in recess this week - and discuss what the next steps are. We'll...
CORNISH: But you're chair of the committee. Can you help me understand?
SCHIFF: Well, I am sure the committee. But this is a decision that will implicate the whole House of Representatives. It's not a decision for one committee chair alone because it will implicate the equities of the House, particularly if we get into litigation over it. So I would hope that we can negotiate something with Bob Mueller. And we would exhaust every opportunity to do that before we'd have to consider whether compulsion is necessary.
CORNISH: California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you for speaking with us.
SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.