Transcript: Rep. Adam Schiff on "Face the Nation," June 16, 2019

Schiff: "No question" Iran behind tanker attacks

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California that aired Sunday, June 16, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back now with California Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Happy Father's Day to you, too, chairman.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good to have you here. You heard Tom Cotton, the senator, and before, that the secretary of state, lay out this case against Iran. You, because you're on the Intelligence Committee, have been tracking the intelligence as well. Is there any question in your mind that it is Iran and its Revolutionary Guard that is behind these attacks?

REP. SCHIFF: There's no question that Iran is behind the attacks. I think the evidence is very strong and compelling. In- in fact, I think this was a class "A" screw up by Iran to insert a mine on the ship. It didn't detonate. They had to go back and retrieve it. I can imagine there are some Iranian heads rolling for that botched operation. But nonetheless, the problem is that we are struggling, even in the midst of this solid evidence, to persuade our allies to join us in any kind of a response and it shows just how isolated the United States has become. Our allies warned the United States, I think our intelligence agencies warned policymakers, that this kind of Iranian reaction was likely a result of a policy of withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Agreement. 

And so what we see is a split of the US from our allies and we see Russia and China coming together and having Iran's back. This is, I think, the worst of all situations and the maximalist pressure campaign has massively failed and only heightened the risk of conflict. For my colleague, Senator Cotton, to advocate that we attack Iran and provoke a war, that there's no Congressional authorization necessary, I think is exactly the wrong answer on- on both levels. Congressional approval is necessary to initiate hostilities against Iran. We should be trying to corral a response, though, from the international community to protect shipping, to impose sanctions, but because we have so alienated ourselves from our allies, that's not happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you see the risk of- of this getting out of control and escalating further? I mean you hear very clearly from the Secretary of State, the president is not seeking war. Senator Cotton is laying out a very different pathway.

REP. SCHIFF: I think that's true. Certainly the president has said that he doesn't want war. But nonetheless, his people, and I don't know if this is Pompeo or Bolton or both seem to be taking actions to undercut that ambition to stay out of warfare at a time when the president sent a message, apparently through the Japanese prime minister, of an interest in going back to the table to negotiate, Bolton was announcing new sanctions on Iran. Now is that an effort to scuttle the president's effort to initiate a dialogue? It certainly seemed to have that effect. 

But I think the- the whole idea that somehow through this pressure campaign we were going to force Iran to capitulate and say, "okay we'll come back to the table, we'll give up everything" was naive- dangerously naive in the first place and this is what our allies are reacting to. This was eminently foreseeable. These attacks on shipping were eminently foreseeable, and the fact that our reneging on the deal hasn't made us safer is part of the proof. And I- and I think for the secretary to tell you this morning that, "see the flaws in the nuclear deal? Iran can go back to enriching now." We left the nuclear deal. How is that to make the case that the nuclear deal was flawed? We left the deal and now we're going to complain that Iran is leaving as well?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to switch gears to talk a little bit about Russia. There was this New York Times report, that I'm sure you saw, that the U.S. is stepping up cyber, I guess, offensive actions to shut down, potentially, Russian infrastructure if needed. Part of it is retaliation for attempts to interfere in elections including 2018 and now. Is the national security community responding in a stronger way to Russian interference than what we hear from President Trump, himself?

REP. SCHIFF: Certainly, I think the intelligence community is training its focus and resources on the Russian threat, even if the president isn't. I can't comment on whether the New York Times report is accurate or inaccurate. But certainly, we- we've had a heightened focus on Russian meddling in our elections. There have been persistent concerns about Russia and other nations preparing the battlefield in terms of our energy grid, and establishing a deterrent I think is very important. But that effort to establish a determined- deterrent is dramatically undercut when the president a month ago told Putin over the phone that he still thinks the Russian interference in our election was a hoax. 

When the president says that he still is open to receiving foreign help and he may or may not call the FBI. What I found most disturbing about that New York Times story about whether we're preparing the battlefield, in terms of the electrical grid in Russia, was the fact that the security officials with the administration felt they couldn't tell this to the president because he might compromise that information in a conversation with the Russians, or he might countermand their orders, their military decisions because of the president's obsequious attitude towards Russia.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Congress getting briefed on that? Is there enough congressional oversight of this kind of program?

REP. SCHIFF: We are certainly. And- and again I can't confirm whether the program that is described in The New York Times is either accurate or inaccurate, but we certainly press the intelligence community and our military to be briefed, kept currently informed and I think we are- are being kept informed. But- but it's a continual effort.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said recently that you may subpoena the FBI director, Chris Wray, to ask him questions about the original counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign as it relates to 2016. Why is that necessary? Are you still suggesting that the president may be a Russian asset?

REP. SCHIFF: What I'm suggesting is that the counterintelligence investigation that began when the FBI had concerns that people around the president and ultimately the president might be acting as witting or unwitting agents of a foreign power. We have not been able to get a briefing on since the day James Comey was fired. Now we are still- now we are just starting to get some information from the FBI. I think the threat to subpoena the director has had some impact, but we still don't know just who did the FBI have concerns about, what findings did they make. The special counsel does refer in his report to FBI agents who were abetted and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

REP. SCHIFF: --sent some findings back to headquarters. We need to see those findings.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman thank you very much. And we'll be back in just a moment.