Speaking Thursday at the University of Pennsylvania, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, lambasted his GOP colleagues over their decision to release a memo critical of the FBI’s handling of the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Schiff spoke just hours after President Donald Trump said he would publish the memo, with some redactions, over the objections of top FBI and Department of Justice officials. The FBI, in an unsigned statement, said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
“I think that the FBI is exactly right,” said Schiff, who described the memo as “spin … that, because of serious and material omissions, is inaccurate and gives a very misleading impression designed to tar the FBI and tar the Department of Justice.”
Earlier this week, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the memo that was written under the direction of committee chairman U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, using classified information.
Nunes’ memo purportedly criticizes the FBI for allegedly relying on unverified information from Democratic opposition research in seeking surveillance warrants from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court against Trump associates during the fall of 2016.
According to Schiff, after the party-line vote, another Democrat on the committee repeatedly asked Nunes if he intended to use the same memo reviewed by the committee.
“And I remember thinking,” Schiff said, “why are you asking this question? Of course it’s going to be the same memo.
“I, apparently, was not nearly cynical enough to imagine that we’d be voting on something completely sight unseen, that no one on the committee had seen, or that we’d vote to put out what we had seen, but they’d send something else to the White House,” he said. “But, apparently that’s what happened.”
‘Effort to put government on trial’
Republicans have argued that releasing it is simply an exercise of good oversight and public accountability.
“But that’s not what is happening here,” Schiff argued. “What’s happening here instead is laying a predicate for the administration to interfere with the justice system.”
Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, likened the Republican-led attacks on the FBI’s integrity to tactics used by criminal defendants facing insurmountable culpatory evidence: Instead of trying to defend against the facts, they’d go on the attack.
“The effort then, with that midnight run, was to put the government on trial,” said Schiff. “The effort now is to put the government on trial.”
“And the way they’re trying to put the government on trial is by suggesting that there is this cabal in the FBI, this secret society, this rampant corruption within FBI and DOJ, and that’s the real story. So, forget about what the Russians did, forget about what the Trump campaign did.”
Schiff said he wanted the Intelligence Committee to publish another memo, drafted by the Democrats, that contradicted the allegations in Nunes’ memo. Schiff also criticized the process by which the Republicans are releasing the memo as compromising politicization of sensitive intelligence methods.
“But unlike what the GOP was doing, I was going to want the Department of Justice and FBI to read our memo, and make any redactions they feel are necessary, point out any issues they have, so they could be addressed before we made it public.”
The talk was held at Penn’s Perry World House, which used to be a fraternity. While the mostly white-haired crowd was clearly older than the former occupants, they were just as raucous as the frat brothers who once lived there.
Schiff drew big laughs early on, joking about the timing of his talk, which he had postponed twice before because of important votes in Congress.
“Today, thankfully, nothing is happening,” he said.
The extremely friendly crowd of around 200 Penn students, faculty and alumni ate that lighthearted line up, but it was Schiff’s sharper barbs aimed at the president that drew the largest applause from the left-leaning crowd.
“When people think about Kompromat … they usually think about the salacious video that’s in the dossier,” Schiff said. “Y’know, from my point of view, that’s not that compromising for a president like this. Seriously, after ‘Access Hollywood’ and the Stormy Daniels story — an allegation that the porn star had an affair with the now president and was paid hush money — barely breaks through the news, how compromising could a salacious video really be?”
Later, during an audience Q&A, Schiff was asked if the Russian investigation was akin to a slow-moving Watergate. Not quite, Schiff replied. “I think we’re actually witnessing a very fast-moving Watergate. People forget how long Watergate took.”
“What’s most remarkable to me is how short a period of time the special counsel has been at work,” said Schiff. “In my experience, an investigation of this nature can take years. So what Bob Mueller is doing is moving very very fast.
“Now, none of us know where this is going to end. It’s hard to escape, though, the feeling that there is another big turn in the road coming.”