2 Former FBI Officials Appear At Latest Hearing On Russian Political Interference

Jun 12, 2019
Originally published on June 12, 2019 6:35 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you had any doubt that questions about Russia and the 2016 election continue to drive Washington politics, well, a wander around Capitol Hill this week might change your mind. Hearing room after hearing room have featured witnesses related to Russian interference and to Robert Mueller's investigation of it. On Monday, Nixon White House counsel John Dean appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. Today, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. And on the other side of the Capitol, two former FBI agents appeared before the House Intelligence Committee. Adam Schiff chairs that committee, and he joins us now. Congressman, welcome back.

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

KELLY: Why bring in witnesses who say explicitly they don't know anything about the Mueller investigation beyond what is in the public report?

SCHIFF: Well, they are experts in counterintelligence investigations. So one of them, for example, ran the branch of the FBI that oversees all counterintelligence. So they were helped - they helped explain to the public what goes into a counterintelligence investigation as opposed to a criminal probe. This began not as a criminal investigation but as an investigation into whether people around Donald Trump and then ultimately Donald Trump himself were acting as witting or unwitting agents of a foreign power. And there are any number of counterintelligence concerns raised in Mueller's report. There are issues, for example, that may not be criminal, like the effort to make money during the campaign by building a Trump Tower Moscow, the effort to seek Kremlin help to make that deal happen. So these agents were able to use their experience to help put that in perspective and talk about why those kind of actions are so threatening to the country, whether they're criminal or not.

KELLY: You said this is important in advancing the public's understanding. Did you learn anything today that you didn't already know?

SCHIFF: Well, I've had extensive briefings on these issues. But I do think that part of what we saw today was just the magnitude of the counterintelligence risks where so many people - the president, his campaign chairman, his deputy campaign chairman, his personal lawyer, his kids - all trying to make money from Russia while they're running for office and ultimately serving in office or close associates of the president while he was in office. And the totality of that is quite alarming.

KELLY: How would you, Congressman Schiff, describe the severity of the current threat from Russia?

SCHIFF: I think it's very grave, and there are new and inventive ways in which the Russians can attack us. We're having another open hearing in our committee tomorrow on deepfake technology. This is a technology that allows the production of very realistic video and audio that is completely fraudulent. It would be easy for the Russians, or any other bad actor for that matter, to introduce into social media a video of Joe Biden or Beto O'Rourke or Kamala Harris or anyone else that is a complete fake. That would be enormously disruptive in the weeks leading up to an election.

KELLY: I know you want Robert Mueller to come testify before your committee. You told us this much on May 30 when we interviewed you, and you told us then that negotiations were under way. Any progress?

SCHIFF: I think we're making some progress - nothing that I'm able to report publicly. I certainly hope that it won't...

KELLY: Can you give us any specifics on what that means, some progress?

SCHIFF: You know, I can't. You know, I hope it won't be necessary to subpoena Mr. Mueller. But I think if it is necessary that that will certainly be my recommendation that both our committee and the Judiciary Committee subpoena him to testify. I don't think it adequate for him to speak for 10 minutes and not answer questions after a two-year investigation. And as we saw...

KELLY: Even though as you heard him say - he says you've got my testimony. It's in the report.

SCHIFF: The report doesn't say it all. And indeed in terms of what we discussed in our hearing today, it doesn't say much of anything at all. The counterintelligence investigation is given one paragraph out of that multi-hundred page report. And even that paragraph says the counterintelligence findings - things that may deeply implicate our national security were sent back to headquarters and have not been seen since. There are certain things that are in the report that we have serious questions about as well. And so I think this is one last duty the country is calling on him to perform.

KELLY: Do you have a deadline in your head of when your patience runs out and you have to pull out the - I don't know - the nuclear option, let's call it?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, at a certain point, you have to conclude that the witness is either willing to come in or not willing to come in. You know, we want to make every effort to accommodate any concerns that a witness may have.

KELLY: Sure. But what is that point as you see it?

SCHIFF: Well, I - you know, I think we're coming up to that point where we will need to get an answer, yes or no. And if need be, we'll have to issue a subpoena. But again, I hope that won't be necessary.

KELLY: Democrat Adam Schiff of California - he chairs the House Intelligence Committee - thanks for your time.

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