Schiff: "If The Courts Take Too Long" May Fine Trump Officials Who Won't Testify In Congress $25,000 Per Day


In an interview Sunday with ABC's "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff that "if the courts take too long" to address contempt of Congress charges, House Democrats may consider fining Trump administration officials who refuse to testify up to $25,000 per day.

"They’re going to be facing ultimately hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. I don't know how many are going to want to take that risk for Donald Trump," Schiff said. "We're are going have to use that device if necessary."

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And we begin this week with one of the Democratic chairmen leading an investigation, Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us this morning. You heard the president right there, he says you all are going to elect him in 2020.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA): That’s not going to happen and I don’t think this country could survive another four years of a president like this who gets up every day trying to find new and inventive ways to divide us. He doesn’t seem to understand that a fundamental aspect of his job is to try to make us a more perfect union. But that’s not at all where he’s coming from.

And he’s going to be defeated. He has to be defeated because I don’t know how much more our democratic institutions can take of this kind of attack on the rule of law.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He has made it pretty clear he’s not going to cooperate with most of the congressional investigations going on right now. He declared executive privilege this week on Attorney General Barr’s testimony. And during the Obama administration, when the House GOP held the attorney general in contempt, Eric Holder, in contempt for failing to turn over documents from the Fast and Furious program, you called it partisan abuse. Here’s what you said.

SCHIFF: The Justice Department after providing 8,000 documents and extensive testimony is now being required to turn over privileged materials. And like all administrations before it, it has reluctantly used executive privilege to respectfully refuse to provide materials it cannot provide.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This Department of Justice is making exactly the same argument right now. They’re saying they’ve turned over almost the entire Mueller report unredacted, the attorney general, William Barr, has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They’re saying they’re prevented by law from giving over this grand jury information so what’s the difference here?

SCHIFF: There are categorical differences. So, first, the Obama administration made dozens of witnesses available to the Congress, provided numerous thousands of documents, as you just heard, to the Republicans in Congress. And yes, it made specific claims of privilege. But here, the Trump administration has decided to say a blanket no; no to any kind of oversight whatsoever, no witnesses, no documents, no nothing, claiming executive privilege over things that it knows there is no basis for. There’s no executive privilege over the hundreds of thousands of documents regarding events that took place before Donald Trump was president.

You can’t have a privilege – an executive privilege when you’re not the executive. So, they know that vast categories are inapplicable to the privilege here. So they’re just stonewalling. They want to draw this out as long as possible and we’re going to fight it, we are fighting it and we have to because if this president can show that Congress cannot enforce its oversight responsibility, something Barack Obama never tried to do and -- and he had respect for the separation of powers, it will mean not only that we can't conduct this investigation but that no future president can be held accountable for corruption or malfeasance.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- but that's the big question, isn’t it? What can you do about it. I know that you've talked about under the Congress' power for inherent contempt that you can maybe fine officials. You're not going to get a -- get a U.S. attorney to prosecute the attorney general after you hold him or any other official in contempt, so what can you do? How can you be effective?

SCHIFF: Well, we're going to have to enforce so much of this in court, and we're seeing signs already and I think this is positive that the courts understand the urgency here. And the first case to get to the court involving the accountants, the House Oversight Committee, the judge has said essentially we're going to expedite the schedule, I'm going to give you a quick judgment on it. And look, we are going to have to consider other remedies like inherent contempt, where if the courts take too long we use our own judicial process within the Congress.

And look, I think if you fine someone $25,000 a day to their person until they comply, it gets their attention.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If you can collect.

SCHIFF: Well, if you can collect but it affects, you know, whether they’re going to be facing ultimately hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. I don't know how many are going to want to take that risk for Donald Trump. But we're are going have to use that device if necessary, we’re going to have to use the power of the purse if necessary. We're going to have to enforce our ability to do oversight.

STEPHANOPOULOS: More and more of your colleagues are saying in the face of the president's blanket no, as you put it, that it's time to open up impeachment proceedings and that would strengthen your hand in the courts. Now last year you wrote an op-ed saying Democrats don't take the bait on impeachment. You said that if it were seen as a political party exercise it simply couldn't work and -- and that Democrats shouldn't pursue it. Is it getting to the point where you're going to have to change your mind?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I was arguing a year and a half ago, when I wrote that op-ed, that we ought to wait to see what Mueller reports. Now we have the Mueller report, although we still haven't heard from the man himself. And I think the first priority has to be get Mueller before the Congress and the American people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you convinced that's going to happen?

SCHIFF: I am convinced it’s going to happen. That is inexorable. The American people have every right to hear what the man who did the investigation has to say and we now know we certainly can't rely on the attorney general who misrepresented his conclusions. So he is going to testify. And yes, it's certainly true that these additional acts of obstruction, a president having obstructed the Justice Department investigation, now obstructing Congress, does add weight to impeachment. But you know, part of our reluctance is we are already a bitterly divided country and an impeachment process will divide us further.

Once we get started, it's like pushing a boulder off the side of a cliff, it gathers a certain momentum of its own until it hits rock bottom, which is the Senate. And then we're like Sisyphus trying to push that boulder back up the hill. But he may get us there. He certainly seems to be trying and maybe this is his perverse way of dividing us more, and as you heard in the clip earlier, he thinks that's to his political advantage but it's certainly not to the country's advantage.

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