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Transcript: Rep. Adam Schiff on "Face the Nation," January 12, 2020

Schiff accuses Trump of "fudging" Iran intelligence
Schiff accuses Trump of "fudging" intelligence on threat from Iran 07:50

The following is a transcript of an interview with Representative Adam Schiff that aired Sunday, January 12, 2020, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're joined now by the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. Good morning to you, Mr. Chairman. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: You are part of the Gang of Eight, so you're part of that group that received the very classified briefing that the Defense Secretary was referring to. He said the intelligence was exquisite, and it was incredibly detailed. Do you quibble with his characterization of what you were told?

REP. SCHIFF: I don't quibble with it. I think it's just plain wrong. There was no discussion in the Gang of Eight briefings that these are the four embassies that are being targeted and we have exquisite intelligence that shows these are the specific targets. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about U.S. embassy, Baghdad? 

REP. SCHIFF: It- it—

MARGARET BRENNAN: He said that was specifically referenced.

REP. SCHIFF: --Well, I don't recall, frankly, in that briefing there being a specific discussion about bombing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The brief was much more along the lines, frankly, of something that Secretary Pompeo admitted the other day when he said that we don't know precisely where and we don't know precisely when. That was much more the nature of the briefing that we got. In the view of the briefers, there was plotting. There was a- an effort to escalate being planned, but they didn't have specificity. And so when you hear the president out there on FOX, he is fudging the intelligence and when you hear the Secretary say, well, that wasn't what the intelligence said, but that's my personal belief, he is fudging. When Secretary Pompeo was on your show last week and made the claim that the intelligence analysis was that taking Soleimani out would improve our security and not- and leaving them in would make us less safe, that is also fudging. That's not an intelligence conclusion. That is Pompeo's personal opinion. Intelligence--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that a polite way of saying they're lying? 

REP. SCHIFF: Well, you know, you could certainly put it that way. But frankly, I think what they are doing is they are overstating and exaggerating what the intelligence shows. And when you're talking about justifying acts that might bring us into warfare with Iran, that's a dangerous thing to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But to be fair, because you are the Intel Committee chairman, you know, the Intel Committee often or- the Intelligence Committee works in assessments, in judgments, in putting together mosaic pieces of information to come to a conclusion. When Esper is working in beliefs and projections, isn't that just how it works? Impossibilities and not necessarily always having one conclusive piece of the exact place and time?

REP. SCHIFF: Well, that's exactly right. But that- that means that you need to be very clear about what you're saying the intelligence shows and what it doesn't. If we were to ask the intelligence agencies, will taking Soleimani out make us safer or less safe? They would say to us, Congressman, that's a policy judgment that the policy makers need to make. What we can tell you is if you take him out, here are the likely repercussions. Those repercussions that we were briefed about were far more dangerous to this country than anything that Soleimani was plotting, as far as I can tell. And so when you're talking about taking out a top government official of another nation, an act that might bring us into outright warfare, the burden of imminence, of showing imminence with very great specifics, I think is very high.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So I- I just want to button up, because the Defense Secretary also said that in that Gang of Eight briefing, when he said there was sensitive information shared, though he said he wasn't in the room, that it was the Gang of Eight's decision not to share the information with the rest of Congress. He said he'd be okay with it if sensitive bits were taken out.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this is a political decision?

REP. SCHIFF: He said a couple things. He said that what he was told by the briefers is that most or all of the members were completely satisfied. That's not correct. I can tell you I wasn't, and there were other members of the Gang of Eight who were equally unsatisfied with the proof of imminence. In terms of the- what he has described and others have described as the exquisite nature or sources and methods, we often don't share the most sensitive sources and methods with all of the members, but that's not an excuse for withholding from the members the underlying facts. And so if the intelligence showed that there were four embassies being targeted that should have been shared with the members. It wasn't because I don't believe that is what the intelligence showed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you heard from members of the intelligence community that they objected to what the administration did?

REP. SCHIFF: They're not going to volunteer that. In other words, the intelligence community doesn't want to get crosswise with the White House and with—

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've spoken to CIA director Gina Haspell?


MARGARET BRENNAN: This was, it appears, according to Esper's description, also her assessment.

REP. SCHIFF: Well, I don't know whether Esper has represented that the CIA director supported or didn't support a strike on Soleimani. The job of the CIA director is to say, this is what our intelligence shows, this is what our intelligence analysts tell us will be the repercussions if you take Soleimani out. That is the principal role. It's the president's call whether that justifies taking a strike, but that should be done in consultation with Congress and approved by Congress. And neither of those things happened here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should other IRGC leaders be targeted? 

REP. SCHIFF: I think that we have escalated enough, and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Even though Iran says its standing down and the president has used that phrase?

REP. SCHIFF: Well, I think what we're likely to see, at least in the near term, is the end of Iran's overt attacks, like the missile attack on our bases. I don't think that we conclude- conclude at all that we've seen an end to the- their use of Shia and other proxies. And so the risk to American troops and to American civilians continues, I think is- is greater now as a result of the administration's actions. Iran has been humiliated by- by this taking out of their top leadership, but also by their disastrous shoot down of this civilian aircraft. 


REP. SCHIFF: That makes them, I think, more dangerous and provocative in the sense that we may very well see covert retaliation against the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to switch gears, because in your role, you were also playing a key- a key- you are a key figure in the impeachment investigation up to this point. I'm wondering if you have a sense about whether you'll be an impeachment manager when this goes to a Senate trial?

REP. SCHIFF: Well, that'll be the speaker's decision. I don't want to get ahead of her--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you want to be?

REP. SCHIFF: --thinking. I've told the speaker that I will play whatever role that she and the caucus believe would be useful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the speaker was on another network today and seemed to leave open the idea of subpoenaing John Bolton, the former national security adviser to the president. Is that something you would be looking at? Are you looking at?

REP. SCHIFF: You know, it's certainly something that we are considering. But look, Americans want to see a fair trial in the Senate. They want to see a trial that's fair to the president and they want to see a trial that's fair to the American people, that brings all the facts forward. There's little sense in bringing Bolton in to the House and not allowing the senators to see his testimony. If they're going to be the triers of fact and they will be they should hear from the witness directly. He has offered to come forward and testify. There is no reason not to have him testify unless you just want to cover up the president's wrongdoing. If McConnell succeeds in making this trial a trial without witnesses, it will be the first impeachment trial in history where the subject of the trial didn't resign, mid trial where they didn't have witnesses. That's not a fair trial. That's a sham. That's a cover up. And I think one of the things that holding on to the articles has succeeded doing is --


REP. SCHIFF: --fleshing out McConnell and the president's desire to make this a cover up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will get to what that trial might look like with Mike Lee, senator from Utah, a Republican ally of the president. He'll be with us soon.

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