Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff On Nunes And Intelligence

Mar 23, 2017
Originally published on March 23, 2017 5:56 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee made a jaw-dropping disclosure. California's Devin Nunes said U.S. agencies collected information about the transition of then President-elect Trump. Nunes said this was incidental information collected legally while tracking legitimate foreign intelligence surveillance targets. But then, he added their information was not properly scrubbed out.

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DEVIN NUNES: Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.

INSKEEP: There is a second layer to this story. Nunes told the media about this classified intelligence information before telling his own committee and then personally briefed President Trump. His Democratic counterpart joins us once again this morning, California's Adam Schiff. Welcome back to the program, sir.

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

INSKEEP: And he's joining us via Skype. Do you know now what information Chairman Nunes was describing?

SCHIFF: No, I don't. I've certainly talked to the chairman, but whatever information he has reviewed he hasn't provided to the committee, not his own members, certainly not our members. So at this point, the only people who do know are the chairman and the president. And given that the president's associates are the subject in part of the investigation, that's wholly inappropriate. And unfortunately, I think it really impugns the credibility of the chairman in terms of his ability to conduct an independent investigation.

INSKEEP: Was there something wrong about the way that Chairman Nunes disclosed this to the media and the president then?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, everything about it was wrong. If this is an issue of whether the unmasking of incidentally collected information was done properly, that's something that the committee investigates. It's not something to be taken to the White House and discussed in a press conference on the White House lawn. You know, the chairman's not Sean Spicer, and we should be looking into this if there's any there there. But at this point, no one knows what the chairman is referring to except the chairman.

INSKEEP: What makes this even more surprising is that Chairman Nunes has been criticizing the leaking of classified information. And I want to play a little bit of tape here. This is from a congressional hearing before your committee on Monday, hearing with the FBI director and the NSA director. And Nunes, according to the transcript, repeatedly expressed concern about leaking classified information. Let's listen to a question here that he puts to the FBI director, James Comey.

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NUNES: Would an unauthorized disclosure of FISA-derived information to the press violate 18 U.S.C. 798, a section of the Espionage Act that criminalizes disclosure of information concerning the communication and intelligence activities of the United States?

JAMES COMEY: Yes, in addition to being a breach of our trust with the FISA court that oversees our use of those authorities.

NUNES: Thank you, Director.

INSKEEP: FISA-derived information, that's surveillance information. He's saying - he's getting the answer that that would be a violation of the Espionage Act, to have an unauthorized disclosure of that information. Was Chairman Nunes' disclosure of such information yesterday authorized?

SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly not authorized, unless somehow it was authorized by the president, which would be even more troubling. But I don't know whether the chairman's level of specificity or generality would qualify as a leak of classified information. But nonetheless, it does tread on thin ice but more disturbing is the fact that no one really is in a position to evaluate this claim. And therefore, we just can't tell exactly what the chairman is talking about, whether anything was done appropriately or inappropriately. And most bizarre of all, the chairman said this doesn't involve the Russian investigation, and if that's the case, why is he doing a press conference on the White House lawn?

INSKEEP: Does this vindicate President Trump, who did say in a tweet that President Obama put a wiretap on Trump Tower?

SCHIFF: No, and this is another, you know, baffling twist in all this. The chairman, I think, again reiterated that this was not evidence of wiretapping of the president by his predecessor. So I think the most it is is a bit of a smokescreen designed to give the president some cover. But that's not the job of a chairman who is running a supposedly independent investigation. And unfortunately, it's just made our job that much more difficult. You know, I think we really have to keep in mind here what's the national interest? The national interest is a nonpartisan and credible investigation into Russian meddling in our affairs, and these actions just make that almost impossible now.

INSKEEP: Congressman, let me ask about that investigation. You said one of your key questions is whether there was any collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have found did interfere, meddle in the election. You said the other day that there was circumstantial evidence of such collection and then said yesterday on NBC, if I'm not mistaken, that there was something more than circumstantial evidence showing collusion. What did you mean?

SCHIFF: Well, I think that's right. I think, you know, every day we've been provided with additional information. We certainly were this week. And I think, you know, looking at this as I would when I was a prosecutor, you wouldn't have to conclude that this is not merely circumstantial, not purely circumstantial. And while I can't go into the, you know, any of the contents of the evidence we've been presented, I think that's a fair assessment at this point.

INSKEEP: As a former prosecutor, would you be willing to take the evidence you have in to court and try to prove there was collusion at this point?

SCHIFF: At this point, you know, we're still very early in the investigation, and I don't think it amounts to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. So, no, you're not at the point where you take it to a jury. But you certainly are at the point of doing a thorough and legitimate investigation. I think there was certainly substance enough for the FBI to begin its investigation and to continue that investigation. I think that was the right decision. I'm sure the FBI did not do that lightly, and certainly from what I've seen, I think that investigation is justified.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, is it fair for you to say there's more than circumstantial evidence when you can't share it with people? The Wall Street Journal used the word McCarthy when talking about you the other day.

SCHIFF: Well, I think - I hope The Wall Street Journal wasn't using that term. I think one of their columnists was...

INSKEEP: Yeah, that's true.

SCHIFF: ...Who has, you know, a very hard-right perspective. But listen, I think it is fair for people on the committee to express their opinion about the quantum of evidence without going into any of the particulars. I do think it's important that we not discuss, you know, classified information in any way. But I do think it's fair to try to inform the public as much as we can, and that's the purpose of our open hearing, and that's why I make the comments that I do.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much, really appreciate you taking the time.

SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Adam Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, the counterpart then of Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman who made disclosures about intelligence gathering yesterday.

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