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Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff Reacts To Mueller's Testimony

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're joined by Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California. He's chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and he led questioning of Robert Mueller in today's second hearing focused on Russian interference.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

SHAPIRO: I want to quote a couple headlines to you. The website of The New York Times says lawmakers extract little from Mueller. A CNN headline described Mueller's testimony as shaky. The Washington Post went with halting. There seems to be widespread assessment that today's hearing did not produce major new revelations. Do you agree with that?

SCHIFF: I wasn't expecting the hearing to produce major revelations, particularly since he was constrained by the Justice Department to speak only to the report. The goal, really, wasn't to produce new evidence because, frankly, the evidence within the report is damning enough but to bring it to light, to share with the American people the degree to which the Russians intervened in our election, how the Trump campaign welcomed that help, how they built it into their communication strategy, lied about it to cover it up and then obstructed justice. And I think Director Mueller confirmed all of that today. I thought his testimony was important to bring that report to the attention of the American people.

SHAPIRO: When we've spoken to you in the past, you've said we still have a lot of questions that we need answered. But now you're saying today wasn't about answering new questions, it was about saying publicly what was already in print.

SCHIFF: Well, both are true. Well, we do have a lot of unanswered questions, but we never expected all of them were going to be answered today. As I alluded in my closing questions to the director in my closing remarks, he was not able to answer questions about whether they did a money laundering investigation or whether they looked into - whether the finances of the first family caused them to be compromised by Gulf nations or whether people were granted security clearances that shouldn't. These are all issues in the counterintelligence investigation, which he wasn't prepared to talk about today but which we have been discussing with members of his staff. And, obviously, we're going to pursue that until we do get answers.

SHAPIRO: Can you point to any significant new information that did come out today?

SCHIFF: Well, I think we heard for the first time Director Mueller say that the president's conduct or anyone's conduct to knowingly receive foreign assistance during a presidential campaign is immoral. It's unethical. It's unpatriotic. And it's wrong. And hearing that come from Director Mueller himself, I thought, was very powerful.

SHAPIRO: You and other Democrats focused on the fact that this report did not exonerate the president. And Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio pointed out that exoneration really is not part of a prosecutor's job description. Let's listen to a little of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE TURNER: In fact, in our criminal justice system, there is no power or authority to exonerate. This is my concern, Mr. Mueller. This is the headline on all of the news channels while you were testifying today. Mueller - Trump was not exonerated. Now, Mr. Mueller, what you know is that this can't say Mueller exonerated Trump because you don't have the power or authority to exonerate Trump.

SHAPIRO: He says a prosecutor's role is to either charge a crime or walk away. How do you respond to that?

SCHIFF: Well, he's treating, of course, the president like he's a garden variety defendant who could be indicted. That's the fallacy of that whole line of questioning, which is the president is unique. According to the Office of Legal Counsel, he cannot be indicted. So what does that leave the special counsel to do? Well, we saw in Volume I that where the evidence was insufficient to prove a crime, he was willing to say so. In Volume II, he was not able to say that. And I think by implication, it's clear the evidence was sufficient to indict the president, even if he could not affirmatively state that. He came as close to doing that as he was legally entitled to do.

SHAPIRO: Just to remind listeners - Volume I is about Russian interference in the election. Volume II was about possible obstruction of justice.

SCHIFF: So when Mr. Turner or others make the argument that it's not traditional for a prosecutor to talk about whether they could not exonerate, that's as if you're treating the president like anyone else. But, clearly, he is a body of one when it comes to immunity while in office.

SHAPIRO: Do you think today's hearings will change or have changed anyone's mind on the question of impeachment?

SCHIFF: Well, I think, you know, certainly in the minutes after the hearing - it's way too early to tell. But, you know, as I said before the hearing, I am very circumspect about how much attitudes change on the subject not just of Trump and Russia but on Trump generally. I mean, if the racist comments of the president over the last two weeks haven't moved people's opinion, I don't know that anything Bob Mueller could say would change that. But nevertheless, it's important that these facts be exposed to the American people and that we finish our investigative work into the areas of compromise that he wasn't able to talk about today. That's about protecting the country, whether it changes attitudes or not.

SHAPIRO: The committee's ranking Republican, Devin Nunes of California, described today's hearing this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEVIN NUNES: Welcome, everyone, to the last gasp of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory.

SHAPIRO: Based on everything you've said in the last five minutes, doesn't sound like you see this as the last gasp at all.

SCHIFF: Well, you know, Mr. Nunes took the view, I think, from the first days of the investigation that it wasn't a worthy subject to investigate a foreign power intervening in our election. And I think many others have also seen their duty as defending the president, whatever the cost may be. But we feel a different charge, and that is to fully understand what the Russians did, to fully understand the vulnerabilities of the president and those around him to compromise and to protect the country. And that's what we're doing.

SHAPIRO: I think a lot of Americans of all political stripes are saying, how much longer is it going to take? Democrats who want to see the president impeached are saying, how much longer is it going to take? And Republicans who think this is all a waste of time are saying, this has gone on for more than two years already.

SCHIFF: Well, this is - you know, what the White House strategy has been - it was certainly true of the special counsel's investigation. It's certainly true of our own, which is stonewall, stonewall, stonewall, and then blame the Democrats for how long it takes to get answers. We've never seen an administration go through such pains to prevent Congress from learning the facts. And, of course, that means that we have to litigate these things. If they wanted the investigation to move more quickly, they could stop these blanket assertions of privilege, which they know will, ultimately, fall in court. But their whole point is delay. They want to put this off as long as possible while simultaneously blaming others for it.

SHAPIRO: Just to put this in crass political terms, do you expect this investigation to go beyond the 2020 election?

SCHIFF: Look. I expect us to get answers to whether people serving in the administration or the president himself are still vulnerable to foreign influence and compromise. And we'll do that as long as it takes. And I bring a real sense of urgency to this; I always have. But if the president is going to sue every time we ask for records from a third party - which he brought another suit, I think, just today during the hearing - then he is unnecessarily drawing out these investigations.

SHAPIRO: That is Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And elsewhere in the program, we will hear from a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.