Schiff addresses Michael Cohen hearing, Kushner security clearance controversy

Schiff addresses Kushner security clearance controversy

In an interview with "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California previewed Michael Cohen's upcoming closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, which Schiff chairs. At a high-profile public hearing last week, Cohen accused the president of criminal conduct and testified he may have engaged in tax fraud.

Schiff also discussed allegations the president overrode aides to grant his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner a permanent security clearance.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Michael Cohen, I know, will be testifying again for your committee this week. What kind of corroborating materials do you expect him to bring to that meeting?

REP. SCHIFF: Well, Mr. Cohen testified in open session, and I can't go into our closed session interview, but about his false testimony before our committee previously and how that written statement had gone through different drafts or iterations. He testified in open session that others have reviewed that testimony and we have obviously a deep and compelling interest in whether others were knowing of those false statements that he would make to Congress, whether there are any other acts or evidence of obstruction of justice, which is also a core part of our investigation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Cohen said though in that open testimony he had no direct evidence of collusion with Russia. The Senate Intel chairman also said at this point no evidence of collusion at this point. Have you seen — do you have direct evidence of collusion with Russia?

REP. SCHIFF: Well, I think there is direct evidence in the emails from the Russians through their intermediary offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of what is described in writing as the Russian government effort to help elect Donald Trump. They offer that dirt. There is an acceptance of that offer in writing from the president's son Don Jr. and there is overt acts in furtherance of that. That is the meeting at Trump Tower and all the lies to cover up that meeting at the Trump Tower, and apparently lies that the president participated in. 

That to me is direct evidence but there's also abundant circumstantial evidence. There is for example evidence of Manafort sharing internal polling data with someone linked to the Russian intelligence services.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But —

REP. SCHIFF: Why do that? What legitimate purpose is there for things like that? Michael Cohen's own testimony was circumstantial evidence that the president was dealing with Roger Stone who is dealing with WikiLeaks and effort to —

MARGARET BRENNAN: But none of this —

REP. SCHIFF: Find out about —

MARGARET BRENNAN: Amounts to —

REP. SCHIFF: Releases of information.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Impeachment grounds for you still. I mean, these are serious allegations.

REP. SCHIFF: Well, I mean, here's the thing and I've made this, I made this distinction all along and that is while there is abundant evidence of collusion, the issue from a criminal point of view is whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy. And that is something that we will have to await Bob Mueller's report and the underlying evidence to determine. 

We will also have to look at the whole body of improper and criminal actions by the president including those campaign finance crimes to determine whether they rise to the level of removal from office. I have said that I think we should await the evidence from Bob Mueller as well as our own work. And I'm pleased to see that Mr. Nunez who and I — he and I have profound disagreements about many things are in agreement on one thing: the report and the evidence needs to be provided to Congress. I think that also needs to be made public.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Kevin McCarthy the Republican leader has called for your recusal, saying that because you had contact with Michael Cohen that you should not be directly involved in these investigations any longer and that you set that standard. How do you respond to that?

REP. SCHIFF: Well, it's pretty frivolous. What McCarthy is upset about is that I invited Michael Cohen to testify and that he accepted, and our staff sat down and interviewed him before his testimony. That's what you do in any credible investigation. Bob Mueller's team sat down with —

MARGARET BRENNAN: Was that the extent of your contact?

REP. SCHIFF: — Michael Cohen seven times. The extent of my contact was just inviting him to testify and also trying to allay his concerns about the President's threats against him and his family, but our staff certainly sat down to interview him and that's what you do in any credible investigation. Mr. McCarthy, I think, can be forgiven for not knowing how to run a credible investigation for the last two years. They did none. 

But one thing that I think is really unforgivable, and that's the degree to which Mr. McCarthy and others have prostrate themselves before this president, and not just in the Russia investigation but even more significantly now with this emergency declaration, which is an attack on the Congress's power of the purse. And for Kevin McCarthy, as the Republican leader, to go along with that, to so debase himself before this president at the cost of our institution —

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

REP. SCHIFF: — I think, is unforgivable.

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MARGARET BRENNAN: And quickly, do you have any idea what the CIA and FBI concerns were reportedly about Jared Kushner having security clearance higher than top secret?

REP. SCHIFF: Well, I can tell you a couple of things. First, that if the allegations are accurate that Mr. Kushner had a private meeting with a Russian delegation where he inquired about setting up a secret back channel at a Russian diplomatic facility, there is no way he would have gotten that clearance apart from being the president's son in law. No other American would get a clearance under those circumstances. 

Moreover, if there is evidence that the Gulf nations or others sought to dangle money or financial backing for troubled Kushner properties, there is no way he would get a clearance. And in many countries that have ruling families — they look at the Trumps as a ruling family here — the corruption goes through the princelings. And if there is intelligence that others may view Kushner is vulnerable that way, that would also preclude a clearance. So there are any number of reasons why anyone other than the president's son-in-law would be denied here and the fact that the president may have overruled the professionals is another damaging fact in terms of our national security.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you, Congressman Schiff.