Transcript: Rep. Adam Schiff on "Face the Nation," May 14, 2017

Dem on Intel Committee

FBI Director James Comey was fired Tuesday -- a surprise move that raised questions about the ongoing federal investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russian leaders and Trump campaign officials.

Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff, D- California, appeared on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday. He discussed Comey's firing and more, including what he wants to see in the next FBI director.

What follows is a full transcript of the interview, which aired Sunday May 14, 2017 on "Face The Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning and welcome to Face the Nation, I'm John Dickerson. Once again, there's a lot to cover today, and we begin with the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California Congressman Adam Schiff. Congressman, I want to start with, there's a lot that happened this week. So for you, what's the most important thing?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, the most important thing to me is that the president fired the F.B.I. director all because of the Russian investigation. That first justification given, again, the White House misleading the country about a major action the administration was taking. But 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. 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.

JOHN DICKERSON: So you say that this was all about Russia, but there is another player in here, of course, the deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice. And his argument was that Director Comey's handling of the email investigation was terrible, and you were highly critical of that as well.

Rep. Adam Schiff "bothered" by Attorney General's role in picking new FBI Director

I mean, you said you were deeply disturbed by it, that it had damaged the F.B.I., it was an error in judgment. So wasn't there merit to the case that the deputy attorney general had made, in saying that Comey couldn't do his job because of his handling of the emails?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: There was certainly merit to the criticism that the deputy attorney general had about how Comey handled the Clinton investigation. And I don't think Director Comey ever adequately explained why he treated the Clinton investigation one way and the Trump investigation another.

But of course, that was all pretext. That wasn't why Comey was fired. And what disturbed me most, frankly, about the Rosenstein memo, and I raised this in a conversation I had with him earlier in the week, is the fact that it was addressed to the attorney general. 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. And now we have the attorney general participating in the interview of new directors of the F.B.I., underscoring, I think yet again how imperative it is we have an independent council.

JOHN DICKERSON: You say misleading from the president. So do you think that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and the Attorney General Sessions are in on the misleading?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, certainly I think the attorney general should've played no role. So the violation there is having a hand in how the investigation was going to be run. In terms of the deputy AG, I don't know what was behind the creation of that memo. I certainly suspected, I think as many people did, it was asked to justify a decision that was being made on other grounds.

Now, whether the deputy attorney general knew his memo was going to be used that way to misdirect the country, I don't know. But certainly as the president made all too clear, that was all pretext. This was all about Comey and Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON: You say it's unethical for the president to have dinner. The president when he talked about his reasoning for this, he mentioned that the investigation into the Russian meddling was on his mind. So is this, do you go all the way to thinking this is obstruction?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, the difficulty, and I look at this also as a former prosecutor. Can you prove obstruction based on the president's own words 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. But 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.

JOHN DICKERSON: And we should remind people that the president can fire the F.B.I. director for whatever reason he wants. On those tapes, would you join with the chairman of the committee to subpoena those tapes?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Absolutely, if the tapes exist and they're not willingly provided, absolutely I'd join to subpoena them.

JOHN DICKERSON: There is a new F.B.I. director being, there's a series of interviews going on. What, for you, is the threshold question for the next F.B.I. director?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Absolute integrity and independence. And for this reason I would strongly urge the administration to pick someone who is completely apolitical, who doesn't come out of the political process, someone who is a retired judge or an acting judge willing to step down from their judgeship.

Someone, ideally, who has prosecutorial experience, but someone who could come in and give credibility to the Russia investigation that, right now, is severely in jeopardy. One of the, I think, heightened responsibilities we're going to have in the House Intelligence Committee is making sure that whoever comes in, this investigation by the bureau goes on unimpeded. Because the F.B.I. has a reach that neither our committee nor the Senate committee has. They've got agents all over the globe. They have the resources to really do things that we in Congress don't. And so we need to make sure nothing impairs that work.

JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned nobody with politics. So Mike Rogers, who's been recommended by the F.B.I. Agents Association, former colleague of yours in the House, so you wouldn't want him to be in that post.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, 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.

JOHN DICKERSON: Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into Russia, but he is a part of the F.B.I. director choice. Does that bother you at all?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: It does bother me. And I think it also underscores, you know, why we need a special prosecutor. But also, if he plays any role in the interviewing of the director, he needs to absent himself from any discussion of the Russia investigation. And it's hard to imagine, how do you interview someone for a new director without talking about how they would handle and how they would restore confidence, public confidence in that investigation?

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Congressman Schiff, thank you so much for being with us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thanks, John.