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Rep. Adam Schiff Weighs In On What's Ahead For House Intelligence Committee


Let's turn now to the House Intelligence Committee, which is about to get interesting. You may recall the chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, has been one of President Trump's staunchest allies.

Well, with control of Congress flipping, Nunes will be yielding the chairman's gavel, likely to Democrat Adam Schiff, who has made clear he has still got a whole lot of questions about Trump and Russia. I spoke with Schiff this afternoon before Jeff Sessions stepped down as attorney general, and I asked Schiff to list his top priorities.

ADAM SCHIFF: You know, I think it's going to be enormously important that the committee protect the investigation of Bob Mueller instead of attack it. So that will be quite a sea change for our committee.

But we're also going to want to restore the relationship between our committee and the intelligence community and law enforcement that was so badly damaged by the publication of the Nunes memorandum. And we're going to have to also work to restore comity among the committee. We don't intend to run the committee the way that the last chairman did.

KELLY: Well, let me follow up on a couple of points you make. First, you mention protecting Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Specifically, what would you like to see done? What can you do on the House side?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, there's evidence that we gathered that we would like to share with the special counsel. There's also testimony of witnesses before a committee in which we have profound concerns over whether they committed perjury. Bob Mueller is in the best position to do...

KELLY: Can you be specific?

SCHIFF: You know, I don't want to go through the list, but there, certainly, have been issues raised within the last couple weeks pertaining to Roger Stone, with the release of emails, which, if authentic, would mean that some of his answers before our committee are highly suspect.

But our focus will be where it should be, and that is protecting the American people, making sure that we follow the evidence wherever it leads, as, indeed, we had committed to do at the outset.

KELLY: Let me press you on the details of that, if I may. Can you give us any specifics on records you would like to get your hands on that you haven't been able to, or witnesses you would like to subpoena who you haven't been able to in past?

SCHIFF: Well, let me give you, I think, a very clear illustration of the problem we ran into with how the Republicans chose to act as lawyers for the White House, rather than investigators. We know that there were calls going back and forth between Don Jr. and a Russian named Emin Agalarov. He was the son - is the son of Aras Agalarov, who, ironically, is known as the Russian Donald Trump. He's a big real estate developer, close to Putin.

And there are calls going back-and-forth between the two of them in the runup to the Trump Tower meeting, where the president's son was trying to find out whether this offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton, as what was described as part of the Russian government's effort to help the Trump campaign, was real.

KELLY: So you would like to get the president's children back in front of the committee?

SCHIFF: Well, here's the thing. In between these calls between these two sons, Don Jr. and Emin Agalarov, there's a third call sandwiched between them from a blocked number. Now, we know the president used a blocked phone during the campaign. And so naturally, we sought to subpoena the phone records to determine, did the president speak with his son in between these calls, in which the president was made aware of or gave approval to this meeting? That's obviously pivotal in terms of the president's involvement in any potential collusion or conspiracy to seek Russian help - illegal Russian help during the campaign.

But we've continued to do the investigative work. Obviously, it's been hampered by the lack of any subpoena power. But one issue in particular concerns me that we were not allowed to pursue and the Senate has not been allowed to pursue. That is the issue of whether the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization. And this is leverage that they possess over the president of the United States.

KELLY: This prompts me to ask whether the president's tax returns would be of interest, and is that something you could subpoena?

SCHIFF: You know, it is something that we could subpoena. Although, frankly, I think that is more in the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee that has a statutory mechanism to obtain tax returns. So I would expect that would be the committee that would take up that issue, certainly first.

KELLY: Thanks, Congressman.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

KELLY: Democrat Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, a committee he is likely to take over as chairman, come January. Now we called Schiff back after news broke that Jeff Sessions is out as attorney general. When Schiff was at the airport, he was about to get on a plane, but he took the call.

Well, in the maelstrom that is the 2018 news cycle, since you and I spoke a couple of hours ago, we have learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out. So let me ask you. How'd you hear the news? And what's your reaction?

SCHIFF: Well, I just got a call from my staff to inform me that the attorney general was being forced to resign, effective immediately.

And, of course, this underscores the urgency of protecting the Mueller investigation. It's going to be imperative that Senate not confirm anyone who doesn't commit to protecting the independence of Mueller's work, as well as, frankly, the independence of the Justice Department because it's plain. The gripe that this president has had with this attorney general is he won't make a criminal case go away in which the president may be implicated. And that is about as impermissible as it gets.

KELLY: And in terms of why this makes it all the more important to protect Mueller, since Sessions had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation anyway, I mean, why does that drive home the point to you?

SCHIFF: Well, because the attorney general now steps into the shoes of Rod Rosenstein.

KELLY: The deputy attorney general.

SCHIFF: Exactly. The new attorney general would become Bob Mueller's boss and make those decisions. The new attorney general would presumably not be recused. And therefore, it's a more shrewd way, and potentially more nefarious way, to interfere or cripple the Mueller investigation than doing something overt like firing Mueller.

That new attorney general can decide the scope of what Bob Mueller looks at, whether the report that Bob Mueller produces goes to Congress, is made public or gets buried. So obviously, that's going to be key to whether the interests of justice are served.

KELLY: So your bottom line is whoever that person is, it needs to be someone who will commit on the record and publicly to protecting the integrity of this investigation.

SCHIFF: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I would like to see the House take up legislation now to protect Bob Mueller and to make sure that there's no way that he could be fired or interfered with.

Obviously, that would have difficulty getting through the Senate. But at times, there has been an expression of bipartisan support for that in the Senate as well. And this will really test whether they were just talking the talk or whether they're prepared to walk the walk.

KELLY: Well, thank you for pausing at the gate to speak to us and give us your reaction. Congressman, good to speak to you again today.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Good to speak with you.

KELLY: Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. And we should note President Trump has appointed Sessions' former chief of staff Matthew Whitaker as the acting attorney general until a permanent AG is confirmed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.