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Rep. Adam Schiff: 'The Uncontested Facts Show This President Solicited A Bribe'

Dec 3, 2019
Originally published on December 4, 2019 7:22 am

Updated at 6:20 p.m. ET

Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead investigator in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, says the House Intelligence Committee's report "shows abundant evidence" that Trump used the power of his office to "condition official acts" in exchange for political favors.

In other words, the California Democrat says Trump met a threshold set forth in the Constitution that says a president can be impeached and removed from office for committing treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

"I don't think there's any question that the uncontested facts show this president solicited a bribe," Schiff told NPR's Steve Inskeep in an interview in the congressman's office on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Schiff's comments come as House Democrats have mostly wrapped up the investigation of the president and are moving expeditiously toward a possible impeachment vote that could come ahead of Christmas.

"Bribery ... most importantly in terms of what the founders had in mind, that is conditioning an official act for something of value," Schiff said, adding, "I think this certainly meets that definition."

The interview also comes as Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, which Schiff chairs, released a report laying out their case for drafting articles of impeachment. That report also says Trump committed "an unprecedented campaign of obstruction" in the impeachment inquiry, charges that Schiff calls "very serious."

"It is difficult to imagine a more ironclad case of obstruction of Congress than this one, where the president instructed all of his departments to refuse lawful subpoenas, not turn over a single document," Schiff says.

He added that if Republicans fail to act, "they must be willing to accept that fact that when there's a Democratic president that they believe is engaged in any presidential misconduct, they will be powerless to find out," because that future president can point to the Trump administration as precedent.

Central to Democrats' argument for impeachment is the allegation that Trump engaged in presidential misconduct when he tried to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open investigations that were politically beneficial to Trump.

Democrats say that in exchange for investigations, which included the family of political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Trump administration would release roughly $400 million in military assistance and grant Zelenskiy an Oval Office meeting with Trump, which officials in Ukraine desperately wanted.

Republicans on the committee argue the Democrats failed to produce any evidence during the impeachment inquiry that proves what Trump did was an impeachable offense.

In their own prebuttal report released Monday, House GOP members accuse Democrats of "trying to impeach a duly elected President based on the accusations and assumptions of unelected bureaucrats who disagreed with President Trump's policy initiatives and processes."

A number of polls, including one from NPR last month, show about half of Americans approve of the impeachment inquiry (50% support compared with 43% who do not). But Americans appear to be split evenly on whether they support Trump being impeached and removed from office — 45% approve to 44% oppose.

Inskeep asked Schiff whether, given that public opinion on impeachment is changing very little and that Trump is unlikely to ultimately be convicted and removed from office by the Republican-controlled Senate, he would be in favor of a less severe outcome than impeachment.

"Would censuring the president — voting to criticize him without trying to remove him from office — be something that would be more in line with public opinion?" Inskeep asked.

Schiff quickly knocked down the idea.

"I'm not a fan of the idea of censure," Schiff says.

"This is a president who is not chastened by the experience of the catastrophe of Russian interference in our last election and is willfully seeking interference in the next election."

Schiff was pushed to offer his thoughts on extending possible articles of impeachment beyond the Ukraine affair to include, for example, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"I honestly do not want to think beyond the work we're doing at the moment and the decision that we have ahead of us," Schiff said. "But I will say this: Even as we transmit this report to the Judiciary Committee, we continue to learn on a daily basis of new facts incriminating the president and that add further context to this scheme."

Schiff pointed to reporting from the New York Times on Tuesday that indicates top officials in Ukraine first learned the U.S. was freezing military aid in July. The chairman added, "That is consistent with testimony we've had, but is further corroboration that, yes, Ukraine understood the leverage the president was using."

Inskeep also pressed Schiff on why after weeks of both public and closed-door testimony he has apparently not been able to gain Republican support for the impeachment process. For example, Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a moderate who is not seeking reelection, has said Trump's conduct was "inappropriate" but not impeachable.

Schiff replied by suggesting Hurd's response has to do with his reported ambitions to seek higher office and a "tremendous fear of antagonizing the Trump base."

"Well, in the case of Will Hurd, he's also said he wants to run for president. And I think that's really all you need to know about where he's coming from," Schiff said.

"Sadly, I think that is guiding the thinking of many of my colleagues in the GOP when I think what they really need to do is think about their oath and their duty to the Constitution. Otherwise, why are they even here, if, at a time when our democracy is deeply at risk, they're not willing to do what's necessary to protect it?"

The impeachment process now moves to the House Judiciary Committee, which is the panel that will decide whether to draft articles of impeachment that lawmakers would then vote on.

On Wednesday, that panel is scheduled to hear from four legal scholars who will share with lawmakers conditions for impeaching a president. Democrats have called Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law professor; Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina; and Pamela Karlan, who teaches law at Stanford.

Republicans have invited Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, who has written extensively about the impeachment process, including op-ed columns arguing that Democrats moved too quickly to investigate Trump and the Ukraine controversy.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Democrats' march towards impeachment continues. Members of the House Intelligence Committee have just voted to approve their report summarizing the case for impeachment against President Trump. As expected, the vote fell along party lines. Now the inquiry moves to the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for drafting articles of impeachment. Four constitutional scholars will testify tomorrow. Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff sat down with our colleague Steve Inskeep this afternoon and talked about the case against Trump.

ADAM SCHIFF: Our report shows abundant evidence, really, overwhelming evidence, that the president used the power of his office, conditioned official acts - a White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a nation at war - in exchange for things of value to him; political favors, two investigations he thought would help his reelection campaign - one into Joe Biden, the other into this debunked theory, this Russian-pushed narrative that it was Ukraine not Russia that interfered in our last election.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Your report says the president personally solicited these investigations, which, of course, is shown by his own phone call. But have you proven with this testimony that the president personally ordered a quid pro quo, personally ordered that that investigation be tied to military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting?

SCHIFF: Yes. And, indeed, the president's own people have said as much. Ambassador Sondland, who was given this broad portfolio that covered Ukraine, acknowledged that there was a clear quid pro quo, both as to the White House meeting and also, he came to understand, as to the military assistance. The president's...

INSKEEP: But he said he presumed. That's a word that Republicans have leaned on. He presumed there was a quid pro quo.

SCHIFF: Well, he also said that following his conversation with President Trump in which the president said Zelenskiy had to go to a mic and announce these investigations, they would be at a stalemate unless the president did, meaning the aid would not be released. And let's not forget. The president's own chief of staff confirmed what Sondland said when he acknowledged in a press conference that, yes, they withheld the aid in order to get this political investigation, and we ought to just get used to it. There's going to be politics in foreign policy. Well, that's not what America does.

INSKEEP: Do you still think this fits the definition of bribery, which is what you said in our last conversation?

SCHIFF: I think this certainly meets that definition. The uncontested facts show this president solicited something of value - these political investigations - and offered official acts - a meeting, 400 million of military aid - in order to get those political favors. That is exactly what the founders had in mind when they talked about bribery as a breach of the public trust to obtain something of value, particularly from a foreign power.

INSKEEP: What are your thoughts about the wisdom or unwisdom (ph) of adding other charges to a possible list of articles of impeachment? - looking into the Mueller report, looking into matters relating to Russian interference in the 2016 election, looking into allegations of obstruction in that matter.

SCHIFF: The way I see the process working is we'll submit our report to the judiciary committee. They will also consider the Mueller report and the evidence of obstruction of justice. They'll also consider, you know, frankly, something also very serious that is outlined in our report, and that is his obstruction of Congress. It is difficult to imagine a more ironclad case of obstruction of Congress than this one, where the president instructed all of his departments to refuse lawful subpoenas, not turn over a single document. We didn't get any documents from the State Department, from the Office of Management and Budget, which withheld the aid from the White House itself, from the Department of Energy, from the Department of Defense. The prescription that witnesses defy subpoenas and not appear - it's hard to imagine a more wholesale obstruction of Congress.

And I would say this to my Republican colleagues. If they're prepared to countenance this, they must be willing to accept the fact that when there's a Democratic president that they believe is engaged in any kind of misconduct, they will be powerless to find out because that president will simply fall back on this example and say, Donald Trump didn't need to turn over any materials. Donald Trump was able to defy subpoenas. The Congress power of oversight is really a power in theory only, and that will fundamentally alter the balance of power. And it will make future corruption and malfeasance that much more likely.

INSKEEP: Given that you have laid out these facts, why do you think public opinion remains so divided? It moved in your direction for a while, but it remains deeply divided.

SCHIFF: Well, it moved very substantially in the direction of the impeachment inquiry and, ultimately, impeachment itself. When we had this conversation a couple of months ago, a very strong majority of the country was against even doing an impeachment inquiry. Now a very strong majority not only supports the investigation we've been doing, but a bare majority also thinks that he should be impeached and removed from office.

INSKEEP: Or a plurality, depending on the poll...

SCHIFF: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Maybe a little less than 50%. But go on.

SCHIFF: But that is a very substantial change from a few months ago. And I think it's a function of the public understanding the magnitude of this president's misconduct.

INSKEEP: Would censuring the president, voting to criticize him without trying to remove him from office, be something that would be more in line with public opinion on this?

SCHIFF: I'm not a fan of the idea of censure. I think we have to decide whether the mechanism that the founders provided ought to be utilized or it should not be utilized. One of things that I think we have to keep in mind in that debate that we're about to have is the fact this president will do it again. He has made that abundantly clear. This is a president who is not chastened by the experience of the catastrophe of Russian intervention in our last election and is willfully seeking further intervention in the next election. I think we need to consider, what's the remedy for that? Or are we prepared to accept, as Mick Mulvaney suggested, that we should just get used to it? We should get used to a certain level of corruption in the office of the presidency that affects our own election integrity.

KELLY: That is Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, speaking to NPR's Steve Inskeep. There was more to their interview, and you can hear it tomorrow on Morning Edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.