Washington, DC, March 23, 2018 – Yesterday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released his opening statement for the Committee’s business meeting on adoption of the Majority’s investigative report on the Russian active measures campaign during the 2016 election.
The statement, as prepared, is below:
Mr. Chairman, fellow Members of the Intelligence Committee:
One year ago we had our first open hearing of the Russian investigation. At that time, I addressed the doubts that some had about our ability to see this task through: “The question most people have,” I said, “is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit, or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible. The truth is, I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: If this Committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will and, after exhaustive work, reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest.”
To that end, Committee Democrats repeatedly proposed joint investigatory plans, suggested a range of witnesses to be interviewed, identified documents we needed to obtain, challenged ourselves to compel witnesses to answer questions when they refused, and urged that we conduct the kind of thorough and objective investigation that the American people had every right to expect.
But we were frustrated in that effort. Requests to interview key witnesses languished. Open hearings, in which the pubic could be educated as to key events, were cancelled. Witnesses would be brought in sometimes two or three a day, with no investigative rhyme or reason to their scheduling, and often before we had the documents we needed to question them. When we sought to compel documents to determine if witnesses were telling us the truth, we were rebuffed.
Late last year, when the Majority’s lack of effort in pursuing the investigation became too much to ignore, we suggested an all-Member meeting to clear the air and reset the probe. Since many of the Majority members did not attend most of the witness interviews and delegated that responsibility to a handful of their colleagues, we were concerned that they were not fully aware of the evidence we had obtained, how it fit together, or the steps that were being taken in their name to frustrate the committee’s efforts to find the truth. Unfortunately, our repeated requests for an all member meeting to discuss the Russia probe, what we knew, and what remained to be done were rejected without explanation.
Instead, several Committee members openly expressed their wish that the Russia probe be ended, or admitted they were under pressure to do so. As it would turn out, even when the Majority announced its intention to end the Russia investigation, it announced that its side investigations would continue — into the FBI, DOJ, State Department, the Clinton Foundation, and a seven-year-old transaction involving Uranium One. The investigations would go on, just not the one we were charged to conduct, the one involving Russia’s attack on our sovereignty, on our democracy, and involving the Trump campaign. That investigation was too difficult politically, too perilous, or deemed unworthy of the Committee’s further time and attention.
Alexander Nix, the recently dismissed CEO of Cambridge Analytica, and one of our witnesses, recently told an undercover reporter for Britain’s Channel Four News about his experience testifying before us: “I went to speak to them and the Republicans asked three questions, five minutes done. Democrats asked 2 hours of questions.” That is a pattern that has repeated itself many times over the past year as Committee Democrats have painstakingly sought to examine the most brazen act of external interference in our politics in modern American history. And when the American people read the transcripts of the interviews we have conducted, they will be able to see for themselves how often the questioning by the Majority was equally cursory.
This is not how you run an investigation. This is how you hobble an investigation.
The Majority’s approach to the actual Russia probe stands in stark contrast to the zealousness with which it has pursued Donald Trump’s vendetta against the FBI and Department of Justice, as well as anybody who may have ever come into contact with Christopher Steele or the set of raw intelligence reports that he prepared now called the dossier. When those who have relevant information on collusion or obstruction of justice fail to cooperate, nothing happens. On the other hand, those who serve the people as guardians of the rule of law and the core principles of our liberty are threatened with compulsory process, or contempt, in an effort to divert attention from Russia’s actions and those of the Trump campaign, and instead put the government on trial.
Is our democracy not worthy of something better? What is gained by this scorched-Earth assault on our national institutions? Why abandon our joint commitment to follow the facts where they lead? If there is still time for senseless investigation into our own institutions, why has the clock run out on the Russia probe? If Robert Mueller, and the Senate Intelligence Committee still believe there is much work to be done, why is the only authorized investigation in the House to be terminated? How is this not a complete abdication of our responsibilities?
The Majority Report reflects all of the shortcomings of this quasi investigation. Its first finding – that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians – was not the product of diligent investigation and analysis, but was predicated on the idea that if you ask a witness if they colluded, coordinated or conspired with the Russians, and they deny it, our work is done. With that level of investigative rigor, no investigation could be expected to find the truth.
We have already seen evidence of collusion in the numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians – from the Russians’ secret approach to George Papadopoulos; to the dispatch of an attorney from Moscow to Trump Tower with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton in what was described as part of the Russian government’s effort to help Donald Trump – an offer that was accepted by the President’s own son; to NSA Flynn’s secret discussions with the Russian ambassador over sanctions, and all the lies that were told to conceal all of this and so much more.
To my Republican colleagues who fail to see anything but innocent happenstance in these events, I would only ask you whether you would view the matter differently if Susan Rice had been engaged in secret discussions with the Russians, or a Russian attorney flew from Moscow to meet secretly with Chelsea Clinton and Robby Mook in Clinton headquarters and then lied about it. Would you see evidence of collusion in those facts? You would be hard-pressed to call it anything else. If we sought to introduce these facts in court as evidence of collusion, there is not a judge in the land that would keep it out. Whether these facts and others which are not public, and still others that are only in the possession of the Special Counsel rise to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Mueller will have to decide. But to ignore the evidence we have found, to fail to see in it an eagerness by the Russians and a willingness by the campaign to make common cause in our presidential election, requires a level of willful blindness that no one on this committee should exhibit.
YubaNet is powered by your subscription
The second finding in your report that has attracted attention is the unsubstantiated assertion that the IC did not follow proper analytic tradecraft in assessing that Putin’s intervention was intended to bolster Trump, and not just hurt Hillary Clinton or divide Americans from each other. Several of your own Members, including some of those most closely involved with the investigation, have disagreed with that assertion in your own report during TV interviews. Indeed, the wording of the section of the report that discusses this finding has changed in the days since your first draft was tabled – the central charge of substandard tradecraft remains, however. How can you possibly vote to adopt any report when there is significant disagreement even amongst yourselves as to one of its core conclusions and your underlying analysis has not been shared with the Committee, never mind the fact that it is at odds with all of the evidence from the IC, not to mention the detailed Mueller indictment?
Adoption of this flawed report will do little to advance our understanding of the Russian attack on our democracy in the 2016 elections, but it will please President Donald Trump and end the unpleasant task of investigating the President’s campaign and his own conduct, a duty that has apparently proven too onerous or perilous to be continued.
Aside from its flawed conclusions, there is no escaping the fact that any report at this stage is grossly premature, when so many key witnesses have yet to be interviewed, like Papadopoulos, Flynn, Manafort, Nader, McFarland, and others. Moreover, new information and leads are continuing to come to light.
Just consider what has come to our attention in the last few weeks, as Republicans were preparing to lower the curtain on our work:
On February 27, news accounts detailed that officials from foreign countries had discussed exploiting Jared Kushner and his company’s need for money.
On March 6, it was reported that George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to current and former aides to President Trump, is cooperating with the special counsel and that his testimony contradicts the testimony that this committee received from Erik Prince regarding the Seychelles mattering during the transition.
A March 13 press account detailed that Roger Stone bragged in the spring of 2016 that he had a phone call with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange in which he was warned about the John Podesta and Democratic National Committee email leaks, well before the hacking became public.
On March 15, media reports indicated that the Special Counsel had subpoenaed Trump Organization records related to dealings with Russia, and the public learned that the Trump Organization was “actively negotiating” a deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the 2016 election campaign.
On March 17, former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who had been fired the night before, revealed the existence of memos detailing his conversations with President Trump.
Also on March 17, a consortium of news organizations began publishing a series of reports detailing the role of Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 election and the misappropriation of the Facebook data of 50 million Americans.
My colleagues, we can be certain that additional leads will continue to come to light, and the Illegitimacy of this report will be sharpened in the eyes of the public – and of posterity.
There is still time, even at this last moment, to put aside the unfinished report before us and return to the investigation – united by the common purpose that we agreed to last year: to follow the facts. As you may know, the Minority is working to finalize an interview with Cambridge Analytica contractor Christopher Wylie and we welcome the participation of all Members of the Committee. We will also be sending out other letters to possible witnesses and hope to arrange further production of documents. We will do this on our own if we must, but we prefer to do it jointly so that the American people may have complete confidence in our conclusions.
Accordingly, I urge a no vote on adoption of the report and will shortly make a series of other motions that should serve to jump start our work and signal to the American people that we are committed to returning to the investigation.