Transcript: Rep. Adam Schiff on "Face the Nation," December 9, 2018

Schiff: Trump faces "real prospect of jail time"

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California that aired Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to turn now to California Congressman Adam Schiff the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Welcome to "Face the Nation."

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The filing made Friday by federal prosecutors in Manhattan references "Individual-1" about 30 times. "Individual-1" is President Trump. And it appears to link him to campaign finance violations. It doesn't charge him with any wrongdoing though. What's your takeaway?

REP. SCHIFF: My takeaway is there's a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time. We have been discussing the issue of pardons that the president may offer to people or dangle in front of people. The bigger pardon question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump. 

Now I think the prosecutors in New York make a powerful case against that idea. All the arguments they make about Michael Cohen — the idea that while people are out walking precincts and doing what they should do in campaigns, the rich and powerful seem to live by a different set of rules. So this was the argument for putting Michael Cohen in jail on these campaign violations. That argument I think was equally made with respect to Individual-1, the president of the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says though that this can't be a campaign finance violation because of the precedent set. He cites specifically what happened with former vice presidential candidate and Democrat John Edwards who used campaign funding to cover up an affair. What do you make of that defense and interpretation?

REP. SCHIFF: Well it's clear the Justice Department here is making the argument that the principal purpose of these payments was to affect the election. And Cohen has admitted as much. I think in the case with Edwards there were problems of proof. Here, it appears the Justice Department doesn't think there's any problem of proving that this was intended to principally affect the election and to have the Justice Department basically say that the president of the United States not only coordinated, but directed an illegal campaign scheme that may have an- had an election altering impact, is pretty breathtaking. But that was just one of the things we learned from Michael Cohen in this past week.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president denies any wrongdoing and has a very different interpretation of these filings. But what is the bottom line in terms of what this could mean for him? You are going to be having the gavel on the House Intelligence Committee in the New Year, do you believe all of this adds up to meet the standard for an impeachable offense?

REP. SCHIFF: Well I think we have to look at the campaign law violations in the context of other allegations of wrongful conduct by the president. We also learn from Michael Cohen that at a time during the campaign when Donald Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee and he was telling the country he has no dealings with Russia, in fact they were having private conversations seeking to enlist the Kremlin's help in a project that could make him tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, a project that might need Putin's approval while they were arguing that sanctions on Russia should go away. That's pretty breathtaking and- and we need to keep in mind that what Mueller is telling us, what the southern district of New York is telling us in these filings, is not even the most significant evidence they have which they're continuing to redact.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think you need to wait for more evidence before you say this meets the standard for an impeachable offense? Your-your colleague Jerry Nadler of New York has said in his book this does meet the standard.

REP. SCHIFF: Well I-I think we need to wait till we see the full picture. Now the-the question

that's presented just by Michael Cohen's plea and the Justice Department filing is- is a crime directed and coordinated by the president which helped him obtain office sufficient to warrant his removal from that office. That's a legitimate question to ask. But I think we need to know what's the quality of the proof on that. Right now we have the Justice Department expressing its view and we have Michael Cohen with his testimony. But I think we also need to see this as part of a broader pattern of potential misconduct by the president and it's that broad pattern I think that will lead us to a conclusion about whether it rises to the level to warrant removal from office.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you get the gavel in January on House Intelligence will you ask for Michael Cohen to come forward and answer some of the questions that now are being raised?

REP. SCHIFF: We will and we're already in touch with his counsel, we hope to bring him back. He can shed not only light on this but one of the most intriguing bits of the sentencing memo was the special counsel's representation that Michael Cohen has evidence concerning officials at the Trump organization. On the issue- the core issue in Muller's investigation, that core issue is collusion or conspiracy. And so who are those Trump Organization officials, are they family members the president? What is the evidence they have? It looks like this is separate and apart from the evidence on the Trump Tower Moscow deal so we'll certainly want to know about that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The deal that never went through, we should say.

REP. SCHIFF: Yes. And finally it's clear from the filing that Michael Cohen, in the preparation of his false testimony to Congress, circulated that among people affiliated with the administration or White House.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What makes you--

REP. SCHIFF: That may go to the obstruction of justice issue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: If you're calling him to testify again, what is going to make you believe that this time he's not lying?

REP. SCHIFF: Well certainly the special counsel believes that at a certain point- point Michael Cohen made the decision to be honest about the issues that the special counsel is interested in and that we're interested in. Now, we'll make our own judgment about that, but I have great respect for Bob Mueller and if he feels that Cohen is confiding now honestly about it, that's a pretty good indication that's what he's doing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president did make his nominee public today- this week, I should say, for Attorney General. William Barr. There have been some questions raised about past statements he's made defending the president's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and other things. Does this add up to enough reason for you to be concerned or do you think he can be the chief law enforcement officer of the country and oversee this probe without impeding it?

REP. SCHIFF: It's certainly reason for concern. Now-now there's no question about his qualifications for the job, he's already had the job. And I think there are great- many people who thought highly of him in that position, but his comments about Comey. His comments about the composition of Mueller's team, his comments, of most concern to me frankly, that it's perfectly fine, essentially, for a president to recommend prosecution of his political rivals and what's more, justice ought to look into that. Those kind of comments raise questions about bias and about judgment. And in the confirmation hearings I think those need to be probed deeply. I think the Senate also needs to exact a commitment from him that he will not interfere in the Mueller investigation and that he will be sure that the Mueller report is ultimately made public.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, thank you very much.

REP. SCHIFF: Thank you.