House Intelligence Committee probe into Trump and foreign influence expands

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) arrives for a closed door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 8th, 2018. Photo credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Trump attacked “partisan investigations” during his second State of the Union address Tuesday:

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Well, it is working that way. The House Intelligence Committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia met today behind closed doors. Members voted to send transcripts of witness interviews to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Burbank Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who is chairman of the committee, tells Press Play that Mueller hasn’t had the chance to see some of the transcripts. The committee wants to share what evidence they were able to obtain with him and the Justice Department.

“If, for example, the special counsel wanted to bring further perjury cases or false statement cases or obstruction, we want to make sure that he can use the full testimony for whatever purpose he sees fit. As well if he wishes to include some of the testimony in whatever report he is producing, we have authorized that purpose as well.”

Mueller has already leveled perjury and obstruction of justice charges against two witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence Committee: former Trump campaign staffer Roger Stone and Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen.

Schiff says he’s concerned about whether people were being truthful during their testimonies, citing witnesses who refused to answer entire categories of questions, including Donald Trump Jr. and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

“The Republicans have been unwilling to compel answers. And we'll be going through all the witnesses who testified and deciding who we got to bring back,” he says.

“Troubling actions” by Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee

Schiff had asked Rep. Devin Nunes, then chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to recuse himself from the panel’s Russia probe. This request came out of concern that Nunes was providing intelligence to the White House about the investigation.

Schiff says the then-Republican majority, including Nunes, took a number of troubling actions.

“Foremost among those was the now infamous midnight run, where he went to some undisclosed location, and claimed to have seen evidence of an unmasking or surveillance conspiracy by Obama, vis-a-vis the Trump campaign. None of that was accurate. But the place that he went to...was in fact the White House. And that certainly blew up the bipartisan cooperation on the committee,” he says.

Nunes expects Republicans to rejoin the investigation, which they decided to close last year.

He says he’s seen ample evidence of why it was a public disservice to shut down the investigation. “We found out just how ill-considered that decision was, as we've learned that witnesses testified falsely before our committee; that documents exist that they said didn't exist -- that we still need to obtain; that people...like Maria Butina...turned out to be Russian agents; that the Moscow-Trump Tower deal...went on far longer than we knew.”

The postponement of Michael Cohen’s testimony

Cohen’s closed-door testimony before Schiff’s committee has been postponed to the end of February. This is the second time that his testimony before a House committee has been postponed. The first was due to his security concerns -- he cited threats from Trump.

“Mr. Cohen is cooperating with us. We fully expect him to continue cooperating with us, and we appreciate that. But I really can't comment further than that,” says Schiff.

What will Schiff investigate next?

He says, “The central theme of what we're going to be looking at is the need to make sure from a counterintelligence point of view that no foreign power… has any kind of financial leverage over the president of the United States or his family, such that it could warp U.S. policy in a way that is not in America's interest.”

Russia will be at the forefront of that probe. But he has a particular concern with Saudi Arabia too -- the Trump administration’s deference to the country, and Trump’s past statements about how much money he receives from the Saudis.

“If that's what's driving U.S. policy, that's a problem. And we need to expose the full extent of that problem because we have heard contradictory things from the president,” he says.

--Written and produced by Amy Ta

Credits

Guest:
Adam Schiff - U.S. Democratic Representative and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee - @RepAdamSchiff

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Christian Bordal, Yael Even Or, Alexandra Sif Tryggvadottir, Caitlin Plummer