House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff on Sunday’s “State of the Union” discussed the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and Ukraine. Read Schiff’s full interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper below:
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I’m Jake Tapper in Washington, where the State of the Union is looking ahead.
House Democrats appear to be moving forward in their impeachment inquiry after two weeks of historic public testimony on Capitol Hill.
The clear picture that has emerged, the Trump administration was pushing Ukraine for political investigations, while holding up military aid and a White House meeting that Ukraine wanted. A key witness, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, testified that, when it came to withholding the White House meeting in exchange for the Biden investigation — quote — “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORDON SONDLAND, US AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: But even after 12 witnesses testified in public for more than 30 hours, the hearings do not seem to have changed the political dynamics in Washington.
President Trump continues to insist that he has done nothing wrong, and there are still no Republicans in the House or Senate that we can tell are in favor of impeachment.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are expected to spend the next week drafting a report for the House Judiciary Committee, which will then make a determination on articles of impeachment.
If the House moves forward, sources say a vote on impeachment could happen before Christmas. Here with me, the man leading the impeachment inquiry, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff of California.
Congressman Schiff, Chairman Schiff, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): My pleasure.
TAPPER: Do you think that that was the most important moment of the testimony, Ambassador Sondland saying there was a quid pro quo when it came to the Ukraine meeting and the Bidens investigation?
SCHIFF: I think it was one of the most important moments.
I also was particularly struck by Dr. Hill’s testimony, when she acknowledged — and I think she came to this conclusion watching the evidence during the hearings — that this irregular channel that had been described many have been the regular channel.
The national security efforts, the efforts to drive our foreign policy in ways that the entire national security infrastructure believed was in US interests, that may have become irregular in a presidency that was driven by the president’s personal political errand, his interests.
SCHIFF: And, sadly, in this presidency, what matters this president — and I think Mr. Holmes made this point quite eloquently — he…
TAPPER: David Holmes, the Ukrainian — the US Embassy ambassador — US Embassy official in Ukraine.
SCHIFF: Yes, yes, that, as Sondland told him, this President only cares about the big stuff. And when he said, well, there’s big stuff going on here, there’s a war with Russia, Sondland explained, no, big stuff that helps him personally, like this Biden investigation that Giuliani wants. Some conversations really tell it all. And that is the story of this presidency.
What matters to Donald Trump is what matters to him personally and politically. The rest, our national security, our allies, none of that matters, compared to what this President thinks is good for him.
TAPPER: So those are the three moments, then, in your view, that are most important. Is there no — you have no more public testimony scheduled that we know of. Your committee has begun writing the report. So is that it? Are there going to be any more hearings, any more witnesses, or are you done?
SCHIFF: We don’t foreclose the possibility of more depositions, more hearings. We are in the process of getting more documents all the time. So, that investigative work is going to go on.
What we’re not prepared to do is wait months and months while the administration plays a game of rope-a-dope in an effort to try to stall. We’re not willing to go down that road. And what’s more, the evidence is already overwhelming.
The remarkable thing about this — and we have done this with almost — well, literally no documentary production from the administration — is, the facts are really not contested. It’s really not contested what the President did.
SCHIFF: What is open to question is whether members of Congress are going to do their duty, and whether there will be anyone like Howard Baker, anyone on the Republican side that is willing to put their country, their Constitution above the party, or even the person of this President, because I don’t think he really represents at least what the Republican Party used to stand for.
TAPPER: So, if the facts aren’t contested, and your committee is writing up the report, and you don’t, at least as of now, have any scheduled witnesses or depositions, do you think President Trump should be impeached?
SCHIFF: I want to discuss this with my constituents and my colleagues before I make a final judgment on it.
But there are a couple really important things we need to think about. And one is, are we prepared to say that soliciting foreign interference, conditioning official acts, like $400 million in taxpayer money, White House meetings, to get political favors is somehow now compatible with the office?
Because, if we do, it’s basically carte blanche for this President and anyone who comes after him. But are we also prepared to say that Congress will tolerate the complete stonewalling of an impeachment inquiry or our oversight? Because, if we do, it’ll mean that the impeachment clause is a complete nullity and, more than that, our oversight ability is really an ability in name only.
TAPPER: But if that’s your view — and you have also said that this week’s testimony — quote — “goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery,” and you have also said that what you have seen is — quote — “far more serious than what Nixon did,” explain to me how you have not come to the conclusion that the President should be impeached.
I mean, it sounds like you think he should be impeached.
SCHIFF: Well, I certainly think that the evidence that’s been produced overwhelmingly shows serious misconduct by the President.
But I do want to hear more from my constituents, and I want to hear more from my colleagues. This is not a decision I will be making alone.
But, at the end of the day, this is a decision about whether the founding fathers had in mind this kind of misconduct when they gave Congress this remedy.
And I have to think that this is very much central to what they were concerned about. That is, an unethical man or woman takes that office, uses it for their personal political gain, sacrifices the national security to do so.
If that wasn’t what the founders had in mind, it’s hard to imagine what they did.
TAPPER: So, it is uncontested that President Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. He said so on the call and he said so in front of cameras when asked about the call in — in early October.
The other question, though, is whether or not the $400 million in aid for Ukraine and the White House meeting was directly ordered by President Trump to have — to be withheld until they did these investigations.
And, so far, there are no witnesses — that’s not to say there are no people, but there are no witnesses who have said that they heard that from President Trump.
In fact, here’s Gordon Sondland asked about this very issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE CASTOR, REPUBLICAN COUNSEL: The President never told you about any preconditions for the aid to be released?
CASTOR: The President never told you about any preconditions for a White House meeting?
SONDLAND: Personally, no. I’m not testifying that I heard the President tell Mr. Giuliani to tell us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Have any witnesses testified that the President himself explicitly linked a White House meeting or the $400 million in aid to an announcement about these investigations?
The President’s own chief of staff, the person who meets with the President every day, on live camera admitted exactly that vis-a-vis the most serious, and that is the military aid.
But, look, what Ambassador Sondland did say is, everyone was in the loop on the preconditioning of the meeting that Ukraine desperately sought for its recognition that it had the — that the United States had its back, that everyone was in the loop on this, there was a clear quid pro quo.
And with respect to the military aid, in the absence of any other explanation, and in light of the President’s own record of pressing for these investigations, two plus two equals four.
What every judge tells every jury — and it’s no different here — is, you don’t leave your common sense at the door. Everyone understood this was merely pressure to get the President’s investigations. And even more than that — and I thought this was notable about Ambassador Sondland’s testimony — he wasn’t even as interested in the investigations as he was the announcement of the investigations.
That gives the lie to the whole idea that this was ever about corruption. It wasn’t. It was about the reelection campaign of the President.
TAPPER: So, you just referred to a public statement made by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, in which he did, in fact, say that part of the reason the military aid, the $400 million in aid, was held up was because they wanted this investigation into Ukraine in 2016.
Absolutely, he said that on the record.
But you have not had — you and the committee have not had Mick Mulvaney testify, or Vice President Pence, or Secretary of State Pompeo, or former National Security Adviser John Bolton, or the President’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
Now, I understand you would welcome their testimony. You have asked for their testimony. And they have not given it.
“The New York Times” editorial board, hardly a Trump-supporting organ, said this week that it’s a — quote — “mistake” not to call any more witnesses, saying it’s essential to hear from key figures and the process — quote — “should not be rushed.”
And yet you’re not going to go to court to compel them, because you say it’s rope-a-dope, it’s going to take too much time.
But is that really a principle, the idea that it’s just going to take too much time, as opposed to, look, there are three branches of government, here’s the legislative branch doing oversight of the executive branch, guess what, the judicial branch gets to weigh in as well?
SCHIFF: Well, the “New York Times” piece was interesting in two respects.
First, they acknowledge that the evidence is overwhelming of what the President did and the presidential misconduct. And they give no remedy for the fact that the administration will draw this out for months and months if we choose to litigate this matter.
Yes, we’d love to have these witnesses come in, but we’re not willing to simply allow them to wait us out to stall this proceeding, when the facts are already overwhelming.
We’re going to continue our investigation. We are going to continue to pursue the documents.
TAPPER: Even after you have handed in the report, you’re going to continue?
SCHIFF: Yes. Oh, yes. The investigation isn’t going to end.
But this gets back to, I think, something the inspector general said, which is, this is an urgent concern. This President has now twice sought foreign interference in our election.
And that election is coming up.
TAPPER: The first time being with Russia.
SCHIFF: The first time being with Russia, when he invited the Russians to hack Hillary’s e-mails, and, later that day, they attempted to do exactly that.
There is a sense of urgency, when you have a President who’s threatening the integrity of our elections, that we need to act now, if we’re going to act, and we can’t allow this obstruction to succeed.
The other point I would make is, the case in terms of the Ukraine misconduct is ironclad, but so is the case of the President’s obstruction of the Congress.
And there was no discussion of that, really, by “The New York Times” or others. And we do need to consider that, if we allow this obstruction to succeed, if we allow them to draw us out endlessly in the courts, then it does make the impeachment clause a nonentity.
It means Congress will forever be incapable of doing any oversight. Why should any future President answer a congressional subpoena?
The Republicans who take this position today, I guarantee you…
SCHIFF: … will rue the day they did.
TAPPER: But what do you say to people who say, well, look, you’re accusing the President of using his office for political reasons, right, and abusing it, and you are making a decision based on politics itself in the timing of this, that it’s going to take too long?
I have never heard you say it, but other Democrats have said they don’t want to get in the way of the six Democrats in the Senate running for president. They don’t want to have 2020 be the year the Democrats are known for only impeaching President Trump, as opposed to legislation, political arguments, essentially.
SCHIFF: I don’t subscribe to those political arguments. I don’t think people should be making them, and I don’t think people should be thinking of them.
What we ought to think about is, what does it mean to this office if we don’t impeach the president based on the facts before us? What does it mean if we do impeach the president? What will this tell future presidents about what they can get away with?
What does this tell the American people about what they should now expect in their chief executive?
TAPPER: What about the idea — I have heard this legal theory posited — that, if you took Bolton and everybody to court, Mulvaney, et cetera — and the Supreme Court has never really weighed in on whether or not such a thing — they have accommodated here and there, but they have never really made a decision about where executive privilege ends and where it begins when it comes to people in the White House testifying, being forced to testify before Congress.
It would go before the Supreme Court. Who knows how they would rule, and that’s — all of a sudden, we’re in 2020. But if you do it the way you’re doing it, which is, it goes — presuming that you impeach the President, the House Democrats vote to impeach the President, it goes to the Senate, Chief Justice John Roberts presides, and he could theoretically compel John Bolton and others to testify.
I have heard that as a legal theory as to why you’re doing it that way. Is there any merit to that?
SCHIFF: Well, I think there’s certainly merit to the idea that we may get a quicker ruling from a chief justice in a Senate trial, if it ever came to that, than we would get by going months and months on end litigating the matter.
There’s no guarantee of that, but I think that it’s entirely possible.
Ultimately, though, one thing is clear. Because we have adduced so much evidence of guilt of this President, so much evidence of serious misconduct, any privilege the President would have would be vitiated by this crime-fraud exception.
So, that will give way. And if it doesn’t, to quote my colleague Chairman Nadler, it will mean that either Justice Roberts or the Supreme Court itself is not really a conservative justice or court, merely a partisan one.
And I have to hope that that’s not the case for the country’s sake.
TAPPER: So John Bolton’s lawyer says that Bolton knows about — quote — “many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far.”
Do you know what he’s talking about? Has your committee been in touch with John Bolton and his lawyer?
SCHIFF: We have certainly been in touch with his lawyer.
And what we have been informed by his lawyer — because we invited him to come in, and he did not choose to come in and testify, notwithstanding the fact that his deputy Fiona Hill and his other deputy, Colonel Vindman, and Tim Morrison and others in the National Security Council have shown the courage to come in — is, if we subpoena him, they will sue us in court.
SCHIFF: Now, he will have to explain one day, if that — if he maintains that position, why he wanted to wait to put it in a book, instead of tell the American people what he knew when it really mattered to the country.
TAPPER: Although it sounds like you’re saying that there is the possibility that he could be compelled to testify in the Senate, theoretically?
SCHIFF: Well, he could. He could.
TAPPER: Would you be a House impeachment in the Senate?
SCHIFF: But the thing is — the thing is, Jake, that doesn’t relieve him of the obligation right now to show the courage that Dr. Hill did.
SCHIFF: She was told not to come in. She was told that, if she came in and testified, it could contravene this privilege or that privilege. She made the decision this is the right thing to do.
John Bolton should make the same decision.
TAPPER: So, as you know, if the President — if there is a trial in the Senate, the President will be allowed to call his witnesses as well. The Republicans will be allowed to call their witnesses as well that probably include Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, the whistle-blower.
And President Trump just yesterday said that you yourself should be compelled to testify if the House moves forward and it goes to the Senate.
Would you be willing to do so in the House Judiciary Committee? Would you be willing to do so in the Senate?
SCHIFF: There’s nothing for me to testify about, Jake.
And I think, if the President or his allies in the Senate persist in this, it really means they’re not serious about what they’re doing. And…
TAPPER: Well, they would — they would cite — sorry for interrupting, but they would cite David Kendall, who was President Clinton’s attorney during that impeachment. He got to cross-examine Ken Starr.
Now, I know understand you’re not as independent counsel, but you did lead the investigation.
SCHIFF: Well, but this — this is not an insignificant distinction, Jake. I’m not a special counsel. I don’t work for a separate branch of government. I’m not in the Justice Department.
I am more in a position that Henry Hyde was during the Clinton impeachment, or Peter Rodino during the Nixon impeachment, or Sam Ervin. They were not fact witnesses.
What would I offer in terms of testimony, that I heard Dr. Hill in open hearing say such and such? That’s not pertinent.
The only reason for them to go through with this is to mollify the President. And that’s not a good reason to try to call a member of Congress as a witness.
TAPPER: But you would acknowledge that there are questions you could answer about your staff having been approached by the whistle-blower before he filed his complaint and other matters, things that you could shed light on or explain.
Would you — would you refuse to go if the Senate wanted you to come as a witness?
SCHIFF: I don’t want to comment on it, except to say that, if they go down this road, it shows a fundamental lack of seriousness, a willingness to try to turn this into a circus, like the President would like. And I hope they don’t go there.
There are others who are fact witnesses. We didn’t call in Senator Johnson. We’re not calling in Devin Nunes. We didn’t call in Senator Graham.
There’s a far stronger case for people like Senator Graham, who talked to the President, or fact witnesses than the chairman doing the investigative committee work in the House.
TAPPER: You just brought up Devin Nunes, who is your Republican counterpart on the committee.
He is now denying an allegation made by the attorney for Rudy Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas. And the — and Lev Parnas, according to his attorney, says that he — that Nunes met with the former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in Vienna last year, in part to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.
Now, that’s a lot of layers of people who I don’t know how trustworthy they are, a lawyer and Lev Parnas and Viktor Shokin. But that allegation is being made by this individual.
Did you know anything about these allegations? Do you find them credible?
SCHIFF: I can’t get into what I know at this point. I don’t want to go into those specifics.
I can say that we have subpoenaed documents from Mr. Parnas. We have had discussions with the Southern District of New York in terms of Mr. Nunes’ conduct. If he was on a taxpayer-funded CODEL — and I say if — seeking dirt on a potential Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, that will be an ethics matter. That’s not before our committee.
Our interest in — is in what this President ordered through his legal counsel Rudy Giuliani, what efforts he made to condition official acts on the performance of political favors. That’s where our focus is.
TAPPER: Is it credible, Parnas saying that? You have information. You have knowledge. Is it a credible allegation?
Is it worth — let me put it this way? Is it worth the House Ethics Committee looking into, or is it just nonsense that should be ignored?
SCHIFF: I don’t want to comment on what the Ethics Committee should do, particularly vis-a-vis the ranking member of my committee.
I will say we have subpoenaed, and did before these allegations were in the public domain, we have subpoenaed Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman for their records. We would like them to fully comply with those subpoenas.
We may go beyond those documentary requests, but we first want to see the documents. And we have seen time and time again the importance of getting documents before witnesses testify, as we saw during the hearing, when Sondland, Ambassador Sondland, brought in documents showing the secretary of state was implicated in this.
SCHIFF: It would be nice to have those documents before we question people like the secretary of state or question people like Mr. Parnas.
TAPPER: So, your committee will come up with a report and then send it to the House Judiciary Committee.
Your counterpart there is Congressman Jerry Nadler, Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York.
Take a listen to what he had to say just before he took over the chairmanship, laying out his standard for impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): You don’t want half the country to say to the other half for the next 30 years, we won the election, you stole it from us.
You have to be able to think before — at the beginning of the impeachment process that the evidence is so clear of offenses so grave that, once you have laid out all the evidence, a good fraction of the opposition voters will say — will reluctantly admit to themselves they had to do it.
Otherwise, you have a partisan impeachment, which would tear the country apart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I understand you think the evidence is there, but do you think you have reached that level of a good fraction of the opposition reluctantly admitting that you have to proceed with impeachment?
SCHIFF: Well, there’s certainly a number of leading Republican voices outside the Congress that are saying that this is impeachable conduct.
And you can now add the former Senator and former Secretary Chuck Hagel to the list of those that are saying the Congress really needs to seriously consider impeachment. And that doesn’t mean just Democrats, but Republicans.
So there’s a growing list of people, opinion leaders, in that category.
But, as I mentioned before, at the end of the day, we have to decide what our constitutional duty is, even if our colleagues in the GOP and Congress have decided they’re more committed to the person and the President than their constitutional duty.
We’re going to still have to do our duty. And…
TAPPER: Even if it costs you support, Democratic support in the House of Representatives? Ultimately, you could lose the House? Even if it means it actually makes President Trump stronger?
Take a look at this ad, because — this poll, rather, because public support hasn’t really changed. And, nationally, there’s a narrow majority in support of impeachment. But in the battleground states, it’s different.
A new poll out this week shows a majority of Wisconsin voters — that’s a key state that Democrats need to win in 2020 — 53 percent oppose impeaching the President and removing him from office; 40 percent support it.
I don’t know that the American people, especially in the battleground states, are where Chairman Nadler said they need to be.
SCHIFF: Well, look, the public support for impeachment has grown fairly dramatically in the last two months.
So, whether it is now essentially at a plateau, or whether it will continue to grow or shrink, I don’t think is really the question we should be asking.
I think, in the first instance, we should be asking, what’s our constitutional duty here? And if we decide our duty is to impeach, then we need to make the case to the American people. And we have to hope that we will be successful in making that case.
But this shouldn’t be driven by what we think helps us in 2020 or hurts us in 2020. There are good arguments by commentators in either direction. I don’t think that’s the question I should be asking myself.
And, as I mentioned it in my closing statement the other day, Jake, what brought me from an opponent of going down the road to impeachment into someone who felt it was necessary that we do this inquiry is the fact that, the day after Bob Mueller testified about Donald Trump’s invitation to the Russians to intervene, his willingness to make use of it in his campaign, the lies that he told about it, and the obstruction of justice in terms of the investigation into it, the day after that, Jake, Donald Trump was back on the phone asking yet another foreign leader, Zelensky, for yet more foreign help in another election.
And I don’t think we can turn away from that. If there is not some deterrent, even if it doesn’t mean that the Republicans provide the kind of support for the Constitution that they should, if there isn’t some deterrent, we can darn well be sure this President will commit even more egregious acts in the months ahead.
TAPPER: And, once again, it sounds like you’re ready to impeach President Trump. But I know you’re going to talk to your constituents first.
Just a couple housekeeping questions in terms of what’s going to happen next.
How much time does the House Intelligence Committee needs to complete the report? Will it be released by the time Congress returns in early December, for example?
SCHIFF: You know, we will take the time that’s necessary.
And we’re at work on compiling that report right now. But, again, we have continued to learn more information every day. And I think that’s going to continue. So, we may have file addendums to that report. We may have other depositions and hearings to do.
But because the evidence is already overwhelming and uncontested, we want to provide that to the Judiciary Committee to make sure that we protect the country in the election that’s yet to come.
TAPPER: Do you think it’s possible that there will be other parts of the articles of impeachment that do not have to deal with Ukraine? I know that this is just — let me put it this — let me put it a different way.
If it were up to you — and I guess — I get it’s up to Chairman Nadler and the Judiciary Committee, but if it were up to you, would the articles of impeachment, should they be written, focus only on Ukraine?
SCHIFF: Well, within our committee, what we’re focused on is obviously the constellation of issues around Ukraine, as well as the blanket obstruction of Congress vis-a-vis the Ukraine investigation.
Now, there’s been more obstruction of Congress that goes beyond Ukraine. There’s also the obstruction of justice that Mueller wrote about so extensively. And there are other violations of the Constitution that we will need to consider.
I’m not at this point, Jake, prepared to say what I will recommend.
TAPPER: And, ultimately, if only Democrats vote to impeach the President, Trump — President Trump, and Republicans and maybe a couple Democrats do not vote to impeach him, vote against that, doesn’t that suggest that this is a partisan impeachment?
Wouldn’t that hurt the credibility of the impeachment, that only Democrats vote to support it?
SCHIFF: I think what it will mean, if we decide that we cannot accept this kind of conduct in the President of the United States, and the Republicans decide that, because of the President’s party, or because they’re afraid of a primary, or for whatever reason, they cannot vote to support impeachment, I think it’ll mean a failure by the GOP to put the country above their party.
And it will have very long-term consequences, if that’s where we end up. And if not today, I think Republican members in the future, to their children and their grandchildren, will have to explain why they did nothing in the face of this deeply unethical man who did such damage to the country.
TAPPER: President Nixon resigned, rather than be impeached. He was never actually impeached by the House. It was going through the process, and he resigned before it could happen.
Do you think President Trump should resign?
SCHIFF: Well, I certainly think that he’s committed the most grievous misconduct.
I have no illusions about Donald Trump doing what’s right for the country or what’s best for the country. That’s never been where he’s coming from.
What my Republican colleagues, I think, need to decide and to search their own conscience about is, why was it that, in the past, Republicans were willing to put country first, why were there people like Howard Baker then, but not now?
I would hope that there will be Republicans who will be willing to step forward and say, whatever the political consequences, if this was Barack Obama had done this, they would have voted to impeach him in a heartbeat with a fraction of the evidence.
It shouldn’t matter this is a Republican president. I hope to hell, Jake, if this had been a Democratic president, I would be among those leading the way and saying, ‘We need to seriously consider impeaching this president.’
TAPPER: Chairman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Jake.