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Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff Discusses Aborted Strike On Iran

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump tweeted this morning that the U.S. was about to launch airstrikes against Iran and, quote, "10 minutes before the strike, I stopped it." Then he told NBC News that his decision to cancel the strike was based on the expected number of casualties.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I thought about it for a second, and I said, you know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it. And here we are, sitting with 150 dead people that would've taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead. And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was - I didn't think it was proportionate.

SHAPIRO: This all happened after a meeting last night with top lawmakers, including our next guest. Congressman Adam Schiff is a Democrat from California who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. And earlier today, I asked Schiff whether he was surprised that the president called off the attack at the last minute because of possible casualties.

ADAM SCHIFF: Well, yes, to the extent that it would have been authorized without him knowing what the casualty count was likely to be. I mean, that is an astounding fact.

SHAPIRO: Usually, this comes out very early in the deliberations.

SCHIFF: Well, absolutely because one of the things the president would need to know is what is the likelihood of casualties? What is the likelihood of escalation? What are the unintended potential consequences? And it appears that he had already authorized this before he knew how many people might be killed. That's extraordinary and dangerous. Look;

I'm glad that he called it off. It would've been disproportionate. But the fact is that the process got that far, that Pompeo or Bolton hadn't advised him of what the likely consequences would be in terms of loss of life, that is deeply distressing.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you're suggesting that his national security team was trying to goad him into something he might not otherwise have wanted to do. Is that what you're suggesting here?

SCHIFF: Well, it certainly seems like he is at odds with his team in the sense that if everyone was uniformly behind this, as has been represented by the White House and the president later called it off, then those advisers seem to be on a very different page than he is. And...

SHAPIRO: Did you see evidence of those divisions in last night's meeting?

SCHIFF: You know, I think in the meeting that we had, the president did most of the talking. It was more of an opportunity, frankly, for us to express our concerns about going it alone - the need to work with our allies, the need for congressional authorization of any military action, the need to be proportionate in anything that we did. And I think it was very important for the president to hear those concerns and maybe more important than we knew if those concerns were not being provided to him by his own staff.

SHAPIRO: And do you see steps to work with allies, to consult with Congress, to do the things that you are urging?

SCHIFF: Well, I understand that there is now going to be a security council meeting that we have asked for. I think that's a positive sign. One of the Iranian objectives here is to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies. Why should we play into their hands? We should be working with our allies to bring greater pressure on Iran's - to keep freedom of navigation open but do this in a way that doesn't lead us to war. And I'm hopeful that this discussion that is now planned in the security council will help us achieve that.

SHAPIRO: As the U.S. is considering - and the president perhaps authorizing - strikes on Iran, there is no confirmed secretary of defense. Do you think that's significant?

SCHIFF: I think it does have an impact on the degree to which you have a functional inter-agency process, the degree to which the president is briefed in a systematic way, given the full advantage of good advice. But, you know, given that he's had this acting secretary and has an incoming secretary, I don't know that we can lay too much responsibility for this poor decision-making process to that factor alone.

SHAPIRO: To look at the big picture here, you've been very critical of this White House. Do you have confidence in their ability to navigate this extremely delicate time?

SCHIFF: I don't and - you know, principally because this was so predictable. This is the result not just of the last 24 hours but of the last 24 months of reneging on the Iran nuclear deal when Iran was complying of increasing economic pressure and forcing our allies to do the same and urging our allies, essentially, to negate, to nullify the treaty and then being surprised when Iran says it's going to go back to enriching. It would be surprising if they didn't. It is the foreseeable result of this.

And here we have this so-called maximum pressure campaign meeting a maximum resistance campaign. And that is maximizing the likelihood of conflict and potential war. So the fact that this wasn't foreseen by the administration, that they appeared surprised by the Iranian reaction, tells me that their strategic thinking, it leaves a great deal to be desired.

SHAPIRO: Well, you've urged the White House to take the next steps in consultation with Congress, in consultation with allies. What do you actually think those next steps ought to be?

SCHIFF: I think that we ought to consult with our allies on the steps that we can take to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, to sanction Iran for the belligerent actions it's already taken, the destructive attacks it's already initiated.

SHAPIRO: There are a lot of sanctions on Iran already. You think more sanctions would make the country less aggressive?

SCHIFF: I do think sanctions remain a punishing way to get Iran's attention and not the killing of 150 Iranians, and then who knows where that leads us?

SHAPIRO: That's House Intelligence Committee chairman Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Thank you for joining us today.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.