Schiff calls Trump's loyalty conversation with Comey "highly unethical"

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, called a conversation in which President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to pledge his loyalty to him "highly unethical."

"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's under investigation? Highly unethical. At a minimum unethical," Schiff said Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation." "If he was then trying to impede the investigation in any way, maybe beyond unethical. But deeply disturbing. Again, a threat to our system of checks and balances."

Comey told associates he declined the president's loyalty request, saying instead he would always be honest.

 Mr. Trump, however, denied asking for a loyalty pledge when asked by Fox News earlier this week.

"No, no I didn't, but I don't think it would be a bad question to ask," he said. "I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, number one. Number two, I don't know how that got there, because I didn't ask that question."

Schiff, the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that even the threat of the existence of tapes of their conversation, as Mr. Trump suggested on Twitter on Friday, would need to be subpoenaed.

"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," said Schiff.

Schiff said that what disturbed him most about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosensetin's memo, suggesting to terminate Comey, was the fact it was addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"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, the attorney general, had committed to doing."

When asked about the possibility of Trump obstructing justice, Schiff questioned whether someone can prove obstruction based on the president's own words, "when 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," added Schiff.

Last week, following Comey's dismissal, Schiff said the firing of Comey "raised profound questions about whether the White house is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter."

"While I had deep reservations with the way Director Comey handled the investigation into the Clinton emails which I made clear at the time and since, to take this action without addressing the profound conflict of interest of the President and Attorney General harkens back to a similarly tainted decision by President Nixon," said Schiff.

Schiff added that the next FBI director to lead the investigation will need to have "absolute integrity and independence" noting it should be someone "non-political."

On Saturday, the FBI Agents Association urged Trump to select former House Intelligence Committee chairman and former FBI special agent Mike Rogers to replace Comey as the bureau's director.

"Rogers' unique and diverse experience will allow him to effectively lead the men and women of the Bureau as we work to protect our country from criminal and terrorist threats," said FBIAA president Thomas F. O'Connor in a statement.

Department of Justice officials were holding interviews all weekend to fill Comey's spot.

Rogers was an FBI special agent until 1995, when he left the bureau to enter politics, and later served in the House from 2001 to 2014.  

"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," said Schiff.

Mr. Trump told reporter's aboard Air Force One on Saturday that he hopes to make a "fast decision" on Comey's replacement.

Asked if the pick would be announced before his trip overseas, Mr. Trump said, "Even that is possible."