Rep. Schiff Hands Off Impeachment Probe To Judicial Committee
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The House Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on impeachment today, and it has a report in hand, the product of an earlier round of hearings. It's the findings of an investigation led by Representative Adam Schiff.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee told us to come by when his report was finished, so yesterday, at his office, we settled into chairs facing each other and asked for a mic check.
ADAM SCHIFF: Sure. Adam Schiff, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10. And welcome back.
INSKEEP: We'd sat in the same chairs for a talk before Schiff presented evidence. We were sitting next to the office globe, which you can spin to show Ukraine. Schiff examined President Trump's effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
SCHIFF: This is a president who is not chastened by the experience of the catastrophe of Russian intervention in our last election and is willfully seeking further intervention in the next election.
INSKEEP: As we heard yesterday on All Things Considered, Schiff presents sworn testimony, text messages and phone logs and other evidence to show the president abused his power. Yet Schiff knows that none of his committee's Republicans accept his understanding of the facts, not even a lawmaker who was thought to be a swing vote.
Will Hurd of Texas, former CIA officer. He's retiring, doesn't have to worry about reelection, has also recognized the president did something wrong but still said that he saw no evidence of bribery or impeachable conduct. What does it say when you are unable even to bring over a Republican that we would describe like that?
SCHIFF: Well, in the case of Will Hurd, he's also said he wants to run for president, and I think that's really all you need to know about where he's coming from. Those of us that have watched Will Hurd and been disappointed by Will Hurd, we're not surprised at all by what he said during the hearing - disappointed, certainly, surprised really not at all. But I think...
INSKEEP: Do you think he's taking counsel of his ambitions, he's keeping his options open?
SCHIFF: Well, he has made his ambitions plain, and sadly, I think, for many in the Republican Party, there is a tremendous fear of antagonizing the Trump base. Why are they even here if, at a time when our democracy is deeply at risk, they're not willing to do what's necessary to protect it?
INSKEEP: You acknowledged in our last interview that public opinion is important here. Why not take more time to gather more evidence and work to build more public opinion for your side before moving ahead to the Judiciary Committee, the next step, as you're now doing?
SCHIFF: There is a real and proximate threat to our next election. This is not something that we can simply defer indefinitely. And, of course, those witnesses that we would want to bring in for additional evidence have made it very clear they will tie us up in courts for months and months and months.
INSKEEP: But can I just note this scheme, as you describe it in your report, was foiled. It was exposed. It's going to be hard to get that done again.
SCHIFF: It will be hard...
INSKEEP: Doesn't it give you more time?
SCHIFF: Well, it really doesn't, though, for two reasons - first, as Mr. Holmes testified, and this, again, is the diplomat in our Ukraine embassy...
SCHIFF: ...Ukraine still is under pressure. Ukraine is still hearing President Trump on the White House lawn saying, yes, they should do - Zelenskiy should do this investigation of my opponent. China is listening to the president when he invites China to interfere in his affairs, and what's more, Vladimir Putin is listening.
INSKEEP: Did your timetable allow the president's legal strategy to work? He's refused everything, he's forced you to go to court, he seems to be losing in court - on his way to losing in court - but you're not going to wait for him to lose. You're moving ahead.
SCHIFF: Well, the strategy ultimately has not worked because we were able to move ahead. We're able to build a case without the documents from all of these agencies, through several very courageous public servants who stepped forward in defiance of the president's orders and testified. We were able to build an overwhelming case of his misconduct and, equally, make a case that this president has obstructed Congress in a way and to a degree that President Nixon never did. If there was ever a case to be built for obstruction of Congress, this is it.
INSKEEP: The last time we talked, Mr. Chairman, I asked you about the prospect of an impeachment that failed in the Senate, the president is acquitted in the Senate, and you looked at it two different ways. You said that may still be valuable because it is a powerful sanction by the House against the president, or it may be dangerous because the president will then feel free to do even more. But you didn't say which way you were leaning. What are you thinking now?
SCHIFF: Well, the president of the United States got on the phone with his Ukrainian counterpart the day after Bob Mueller testified. The day after Donald Trump believed that the Mueller investigation was over, he was back on the phone seeking foreign interference yet again in the U.S. presidential election. That tells me this president believes that he is above the law, and I think for an unethical president to believe they're above the law is an extraordinarily dangerous thing for the country.
INSKEEP: But you have raised the scenario that the president might be even more unbound if you do the most serious thing that you can to him and he still walks away and is still president.
SCHIFF: Well, I would just say this - we've seen the results already of not moving forward with even an impeachment inquiry in the case of the president's solicitation of Russian interference in the last election. That was that it would happen again, and it did happen again.
INSKEEP: Is this your only shot? Meaning if you gather more evidence, if more things happen, could you imagine doing another impeachment inquiry, continuing this impeachment inquiry?
SCHIFF: I honestly do not want to think beyond the work we're doing at the moment and the decision that we have ahead of us. But I will say this - even as we transmit this report to the Judiciary Committee, we continue to learn on a daily basis of new facts incriminating the president. Just today, for example, it was publicly reported that the deputy foreign minister in Ukraine was aware as early as late July that the military aid was being withheld or there was a problem with the military aid. That is consistent with testimony we've had, but it is further corroboration that yes, Ukraine understood the leverage the president was using.
INSKEEP: One other thing, Mr. Chairman - some people have noted a bit of your own personal history - that there was a Republican congressman in the '90s named Jim Rogan who was an impeachment manager in Bill Clinton's impeachment, and he was defeated for reelection by you, if I'm not mistaken, in 2000 and said afterward it was his work on impeachment that defeated him. What lesson, if any, do you see in that bit of history that is relevant to now?
SCHIFF: Well, certainly, impeaching a president over an affair is a big mistake. That's the mistake my predecessor made. A president who uses the power of his office to coerce an ally to interfere in the next presidential election by withholding military assistance and withholding White House meetings - that is a very different order of magnitude, a very different animal. That's what I would take from that experience.
INSKEEP: But this is my question, really - you're heading into an election year. You would rather politics not inform this process, electoral politics not inform this process. But you seem to feel that it is very important that this president be defeated in 2020. Do you worry about the prospect of strengthening him politically for 2020 by impeaching him and not removing him?
SCHIFF: I have not tried to consider whether this helps or hurts the president or his opponent in the 2020 election. I just don't think that's my job, my responsibility or that ought to be the consideration here. So there are, I think, bright political commentator minds that are making those judgments. My own feeling is we ought to figure out what's best for the country. We ought to figure out what the Constitution has to say about this. And we have to decide for ourselves, are we prepared to accept this kind of misconduct in the president of the United States? Because if we are, we can expect there's going to be a lot more of it.
INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, thanks so much.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Adam Schiff is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The House Judiciary Committee begins the next round of impeachment hearings today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.