The top democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff believes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who decided to recuse himself from all matters related to the 2016 election, can not meet with candidates for FBI Director and not talk about the Russian election issue. He also calls on Republicans to appoint someone with no political connections -- not quite ruling our former Rep. Mike Rogers, who is one name that has been recommended.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, the most important thing to me is that the president fired the FBI director all because of the Russia investigation.
That first justification given, again, the White House misleading the country about a major action the administration was taking, but the fact that they had a private conversation in which the president, by his own admission, was discussing the future of Director Comey in that job, and the president brings up whether he is under investigation, highly unethical, at a minimum, unethical.
If he was then trying to impede the investigation in any away, it may be beyond unethical, but deeply disturbing, again, a threat to our system of checks and balances.
DICKERSON: So, you say that this was all about Russia. But there is another player in here, of course, the deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice.
And his argument was that Director Comey's handling of the e-mail investigation was terrible. And you were highly critical of that as well. I mean, you said you were deeply disturbed by it, that it had damaged the FBI, it was an error in judgment.
So, wasn't there merit to the case that the deputy attorney general had made in saying that Comey couldn't do his job because of his handling of the e-mails?
SCHIFF: There was certainly merit to the criticism that the deputy attorney general had about how Comey handled the Clinton investigation. And I don't think Director Comey ever adequately explained why he treated the Clinton investigation one way and the Trump investigation another.
But, of course, that was all pretext. That wasn't why Comey was fired. And what disturbed me most, frankly, about the Rosenstein memo -- and I raised this in a conversation I had with him earlier in the week -- is the fact it was addressed to the attorney general.
The attorney general was supposed to have recused himself from anything involving Russia. And here he is recommending the firing of the top cop doing the Russia investigation, in clear violation of what he had -- he, the attorney general, had committed to doing.
And now we have the attorney general participating in the interview of new directors of the FBI, underscoring, I think, yet again how imperative it is we have an independent counsel.
DICKERSON: You say misleading from the president.
So, do you think that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and the attorney general, Sessions, are in on the misleading?
SCHIFF: Well, certainly, I think the attorney general should have played no role. So, the violation there is having a hand in how the investigation is going to be run.
In terms of the deputy A.G., I don't know what was behind the creation of that memo. I certainly suspected, I think, as many people did, it was asked to justify a decision that was being made on other grounds.
Now, whether the deputy attorney general knew his memo was going to be used that way, to misdirect the country, I don't know. But, certainly, as the president made all too clear, that was all pretext. This was all about Comey and Russia.
DICKERSON: You say it's unethical for the president to have had dinner.
The president, when he talked about his reasoning for this, he mentioned that the investigation into the Russian meddling was on his mind. So, is this -- do you go all the way to thinking this is obstruction?
SCHIFF: Well, the difficulty -- and I look at this also as a former prosecutor -- can you prove obstruction based on the president's own words, when we don't know whether we can believe this president?
We already know that there are those close to Comey who have a very different take, also a troubling take, on that dinner conversation. So, I'm not sure you could prove the case based on this. But if there are tapes, of course, that would be the best evidence of what took place.
If they exist, Congress needs to get them. If they're not provided willingly, Congress should subpoena them. And if they're not in existence, if this was yet another fabrication by the president, he needs to come clean about it.
DICKERSON: And we should remind people that the president can fire the FBI director for whatever reason he wants.
On those tapes, could you -- would you join with the chairman of the committee to subpoena to those tapes? Is that...
SCHIFF: Absolutely. If the tapes exist, and they're not willfully, willingly provided, absolutely, I would join in subpoenaing them.
DICKERSON: There is a new FBI director being -- there's a series of interviews going on.
What, for you, is the threshold question for the next FBI director?
SCHIFF: Absolute integrity and independence.
And, for this reason, I would strongly urge the administration to pick someone who is completely apolitical, who doesn't come out of the political process, someone who is a retired judge or an acting judge willing to step down from their judgeship, someone ideally who has prosecutorial experience, but someone who could come in and give credibility to the Russia investigation that right now is severely in jeopardy.
One of the, I think, heightened responsibilities we're going to have in the House Intelligence Committee is making sure that, whoever comes in, this investigation by the bureau goes on unimpeded, because the FBI has a reach that neither our committee nor the Senate committee has.
They've got agents all over the globe. They have the resources to really do things that we in Congress don't. And so we need to make sure nothing impairs that work.
DICKERSON: You mentioned nobody with politics.
So, Mike Rogers, who has been recommended by the FBI Agents Association, former colleague of yours in the House, so you wouldn't -- you wouldn't want him to gain that post?
SCHIFF: Well, nothing against Mike Rogers or either of the other House or Senate candidates who have been mentioned, but I think the public would have the most confidence if someone who had no partisan background, was completely apolitical was brought in to run the bureau.
DICKERSON: Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into Russia, but he is a part of the FBI director choice.
Does that bother you at all?
SCHIFF: It does bother me.
And I think it also underscores why we need a special prosecutor. But, also, if he plays any role in the interviewing of the director, he needs to absent himself from any discussion of the Russia investigation.
And it's hard to imagine. How do you interview someone for a new director without talking about how they would handle and how they would restore confidence, public confidence in that investigation?