Schiff: Nunes Has A Choice To Make, Is He A Trump Surrogate Or Independent Credible Investigator?


House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff joins CBS's John Dickerson on this week's edition of 'Face The Nation' about hearings scheduled this week in the investigation into Russia's role in influencing the 2016 election. He says the Republican committee chairman Devin Nunes has a choice to make: Will he conduct an unbiased investigation or is he pro-Trump?

Schiff also addressed the cancellation of the open hearing this coming week with testimony from Sally Yates, John Brennan and James Clapper, the Chairman's actions in briefing the White House on the evidence he had seen before the Committee, and the need for an independent commission outside of Congress

DICKERSON: For more on the investigation into possible ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia, we are joined now by the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, California Representative Adam Schiff. He's in Palo Alto.

Congressman, I want to start with something Chairman Nunes of the committee said. He suggested that some private citizens had been unmasked as a part of a surveillance effort. If, in fact, that were true, that would be a big deal, wouldn't it?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it all depends.

There are perfectly appropriate circumstances to unmask the names of people. In fact, that is done quite often. And the standard is whether the unmasking of those names is necessary to determine the significance of the intelligence.

So, unmasking is not at all unusual. The question is, was it done appropriately? And here, the problem, John, is that none of us have seen what the chairman is talking about. This evidence was taken apparently directly to the White House, which creates another issue, because, of course, it is associates involved in the Trump campaign who are in part the subject of what we are investigating.

That is the bigger problem, I think, than the chairman's claim. Certainly, we want to oversee the minimization processes, make sure they are operating correctly, but we can't have a credible investigation if one of the members, indeed, the chairman, takes only information he has seen to the White House and doesn't share it with his own committee.

DICKERSON: And so he has not shared that with you, including his claim that the president himself, when he was a candidate, was caught in the surveillance; is that right?

SCHIFF: Yes. He hasn't shared with me. And, to my knowledge -- and you can check with my colleague Mr. Gowdy -- I don't think he has shared it with anyone on the committee.

So we are all quite in the dark on this. And we, I think, suffered really two serious blows to the integrity of the investigation this week, one, with that unilateral trip to the White House, but the other with a cancellation of an open hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday with Directors Clapper, Brennan and Sally Yates, the deputy -- former deputy attorney general.

I think her testimony in particular would have shed a lot of light for the public on the whole Michael Flynn chapter. And perhaps that is something the White House didn't want to see. I can't otherwise account for why we would have this abrupt cancellation of a hearing that both the chair and I had committed to doing.

DICKERSON: Well, the chairman's argument is that the cancellation of that hearing was necessary because he wanted to have other closed-door testimony beforehand before having that next hearing. That seems like a reasonable idea.

SCHIFF: You know, it certainly would be reasonable, if that were the justification.

But, of course, the one doesn't preclude the other. We welcome the return of any of the witnesses in closed session. But their testimony doesn't necessarily preclude us doing an open hearing that we had already agreed with, the witnesses were prepared to do, they were more than willing to do.

So, I really don't think that is the justification. Indeed, we got word that they were trying to close the open hearing even before they suggested an alternate hearing.

DICKERSON: You suggested in a tweet that the chairman was trying to -- quote -- "choke off public information." What evidence did you have for that?

SCHIFF: Well, I think that the hearing that we had on Monday, where the director of the FBI testified for the first time that there is an ongoing investigation of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, as well as the disclosure by the director that there was no factual basis for the president's accusation of wiretapping by his predecessor, I think that hearing went so poorly for the White House, that there was a lot of pushback in doing a second open hearing, honestly, John, because the other explanations simply don't make sense.

We could always have Directors Comey and Rogers come back at any time. There is no necessity of having them come back before the open hearing. I think that was merely an effort to camouflage the true object here, which was the closure or the cancellation of the hearing with Sally Yates.


SCHIFF: But let me just make a -- yes.

DICKERSON: Well, I just want to interrupt briefly, Congressman, because basically what it sounds like you are saying is that the chairman of the committee is a tool of the White House he is investigating.

And if you are saying that, how can this committee get its work done?

SCHIFF: Well, look, I think the chairman has to make a decision, whether to act as a surrogate of the White House, as he did during the campaign and the transition, or to lead an independent and credible investigation.

I hope he chooses the latter. The country really needs to have an independent, credible investigation in the House. And we had that up until and through Monday. Where I think that the House process went off the rails was with that -- that venture by the chairman to the White House.

You simply can't run a credible investigation that way. I am going to do everything I can to get this back on track. And I implore our chairman and the speaker to rededicate themselves to a serious and bipartisan investigation.

We know that Russia was involved in hacking our democracy. We know that the evidence or information is sufficient to warrant an FBI investigation of this. We are trying to do as much of this as we can in the public eye transparently. Obviously, some of it will have to be done in closed session.

But it really demands both parties work together on this. We made every effort to do so, but we need the chairman to decide that is what his object is as well.

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