The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California that aired Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re going to bring in California’s Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who joins us from Portland, Oregon, this morning. Congressman Schiff, some of the investigations or lack thereof were just laid out by Kellyanne Conway from the White House. I want to give you a chance to respond to criticism that she has leveled in terms of congressional investigations.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, look, I- I think it was a broad effort to distract from the president’s comments. And, as you pointed out Margaret, the president can’t distinguish between any allegations of conspiracy against his campaign and the broader problem of Russia continued to interfere in our elections. Dan Coats said this week that Russian efforts are pervasive in terms of their soc- social media campaign to divide us. That’s going to continue to the election. We see that the Russians are again trying to spearfish and potentially hack election campaigns. The only element we have not seen to date, as Director Wray said, is the hacking of voter registration databases or voter equipment.
But as our intelligence chief said, that’s just one keystroke away and probably the biggest thing that the president could do is confront Moscow to establish some kind of deterrent, but instead exactly the opposite message is being sent, and that is, and I think this was delivered in Helsinki, as long as the Russians interfere on Donald Trump’s side in the midterms, Vladimir Putin can count on the president to never call him out. And that leaves us all too vulnerable.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman before we go any farther, because I want to drive distinctions as we’ve been saying here that some of the facts can get muddled here in the president’s language. I want to make sure we’re being precise in our conversation. Can you agree that there has been no evidence of collusion coordination or conspiracy that has been presented thus far between the Trump campaign and Russia?
REP. SCHIFF: No, I don’t agree with that at all. I think there’s plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy in plain sight. Now, that’s a different statement than saying that there’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy. Bob Mueller will have to determine that. But of course —
MARGARET BRENNAN: — Right so your, you- you acknowledge that the FBI has not presented it thus far? I’m- I’m drawing this distinction because this is what the White House is arguing here, that the president is drawing a distinction, that he is saying when he says hoax and witch hunt that he means one thing and that it’s not really trying to disassociate himself from what his national security team says.
REP. SCHIFF: Well- well first of all, we haven’t seen what Bob Mueller has produced in terms of the evidence yet, so in terms of FBI proof, they’re not going to present proof to the Congress. We’re doing our own investigation and we’ve revealed evidence, I think, that certainly goes to the issue of conspiracy and collusion, a lot of which is now public. But I do think that the president continues to cast doubt on whether he accepts the fundamental conclusion that Russia intervened, whether there was a conspiracy or not. He continues to raise questions about it. Indeed, his attempt to retract his statement in Helsinki that he doesn’t see why the Russians would intervene, that goes well beyond any allegations of conspiracy.
So it’s the president himself who’s created this very muddled message and the issue, I think, for us in the midterms is what message is Putin hearing? Is he hearing the message that we heard from Coats and Wray and others in that press conference at the White House or is hearing the message of the President of the United States? And I fear that the message that the Kremlin cares most about is what they hear from Donald Trump and that is still one of denial and cover for the Russians.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the DNC better prepared for these November races than they were in 2016?
REP. SCHIFF: I’m sure the DNC is better prepared and I would imagine the RNC is better prepared and the states are better prepared. But there is still a great deal more work to do and I think the states still don’t have the resources that they need. And sadly we did have a vote in Congress on additional funding for the states and that was voted down by the GOP. But yes, they certainly have taken steps and, you know Margaret, I will say this, one thing that encourages me, the administration is finally having interagency task force meetings every week led by the DNI office to make sure that our government agencies are talking to each other. But the fact that many of us even in leadership positions in the Congress had to learn about Russian efforts to hack particular campaigns this cycle from a Microsoft representative speaking publicly in Aspen causes a lot of concern about whether that interagency process is really working.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And- and you are talking about Microsoft disclosing that, I also want to ask you, though, about what the Special Counsel disclosed a- a few weeks back, where in that filing, he mentioned that their work congressional candidates, at least one of them who was requesting help from Guccifer, which has been linked, of course, by the Special Counsel to the Russian meddling effort. Do you have any indication who that congressional candidate was or if they are currently in Congress?
REP. SCHIFF: Well I can only talk about the public reporting and there certainly was a lot of public reporting about Russian hacking involving Florida candidates for Congress and Florida incumbents and, of course, this is a great concern in terms of the midterms they not only hacked the DNC but the fact the DCCC two years ago. We tried to get the Republican Campaign Committee to agree that if a foreign power intervened as they did in 2016, that we would reject it, that neither party would exploit it. We weren’t able to get that agreement from the GOP in 2016. We really need to develop that kind of national consensus for the midterms, that no matter who a foreign power may intervene on behalf of, both parties have to agree not to exploit it. And I think one of the chief impediments to getting to that agreement is the president of the United States.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You, I know, have been traveling the country- helping to raise money for Democrats, successfully I hear. More than three and a half million so far. When you are speaking across the country do you talk about the rush to probe and do you advise those who are running for office to be speaking about it publicly?
REP. SCHIFF: I don’t advise people running for office around the country to focus on the Russia investigation. I urge them to focus on what they’re going to do to put bread on the table, what they’re going to do to make sure the constituents have healthcare. I certainly get questions about it when I travel around the country, and the overarching point that I try to make is what the Russians did was not in isolation. The Russians- yes they intervened. They had a preferred candidate in our election, but they’ve been interfering in Europe and elsewhere for a long time. And it is part of a global attack on the very idea of liberal democracy and comes at a time where we see a real rise of autocrats around the world. And America needs once again to be the champion of democracy and human rights. And that’s the context I always try to emphasize. This is much bigger than the last election or even the next election. There is a real risk to the very idea of liberal democracy right now in the world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But does it give you pause when you hear the allegations that this is viewed as a witch hunt? When you are campaigning and fundraising does it give you pause to speak about this probe at- at risk of giving fodder to that argument?
REP. SCHIFF: Well, you know, I certainly I think- feel a public responsibility as I do on television as well as I do in private to try to inform the public about what Russia is doing, the risk it poses to our democracy. But -also Margaret I frankly talk a lot more about the risks to our democracy from this administration, in a lot of what you talked about with Kellyanne Conway. And that is I think we’re seeing the most comprehensive attack on the freedom of the press in the United States in memory. -I think we’re seeing an effort to undermine the independence of our justice department, to denigrate our judiciary. I talk a lot more on the campaign trail about the threat to our democracy from within than anything that the Russians are capable of doing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, thank you for joining us this morning. We’ll be back in a moment with former Secretary of Education under President Obama, Arne Duncan. We’ll get his take on what’s working and what’s not working when it comes to America’s schools.