Republicans running Monday’s House Intelligence panel hearing on alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia focused primarily on who leaked to reporters the transcripts of monitored international phone calls, potentially a crime.
On Tuesday, the panel’s ranking Democrat drew a distinction between leaks that harm national security and those that expose malfeasance.
“Every administration faces this problem,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a Brookings Institution talk. He cited several categories of leaks, starting with those “most dangerous to the country.” He mentioned the releases of documents showing domestic surveillance by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and this year’s revelation of the apparent hacking of CIA cyber operations files, “if legitimate.”
Leaks of “surveillance tools and methods are enormously damaging,” Schiff said. But those differ from “leaks that expose malfeasance, and I’d put [Gen. Michael Flynn] in that category. We’re taking about the national security adviser, not the postmaster general,” he said. Flynn “lied to the vice president and others about talking to the Russians over sanctions, and the president is informed about it but does nothing” for days before finally firing him.
“Leaks are a problem here, especially if their [material] is classified, and have to be taken seriously,” Schiff said. But Republicans “don’t want to see the forest for the trees,” he added. “We don’t want to lose sight of the broader issue, that democracy was hijacked.”
Schiff’s broader talk warned that misleading statements by President Trump amid a polarized political and media environment are combining with Republican lawmakers’ desire to move a conservative agenda to produce the most “palpable disquiet in Congress that I’ve never seen,” he said. He said he hopes for a bipartisan investigation with a single conclusion on whether the Russian effort to influence U.S. elections involved Trump personnel. But if subpoenas become necessary, and if the GOP majority declines to go along, “we’ll take it to the public,” he said.
The Democrat predicted that Congress will not adopt Trump’s proposed 28 percent cut to the State Department budget for fiscal 2018, which “would fundamentally impair our ability to conduct” diplomacy, Schiff said. And “rather than starving our international broadcasting programs, we should broaden and expand them,” he said.
Republicans currently are backing Trump because they want something—a specific rule repealed, tax reform—Schiff said, “but the conflict with Trump is coming.”
He criticized the press for falling to provide “context” last year when reporting WikiLeaks’ hacked documents from Democratic National Committee, and for not saying off the bat that the documents were “stolen” by the Russians. The “attack on Hillary Clinton succeeded because we allowed it to,” Schiff said.
Addressing Monday ‘s nationally televised hearing—at which the FBI and NSA confirmed an investigation of Trump’s Russia ties and said that that no evidence has emerged to back Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped him--Schiff said the meeting was surprisingly civil. “I considered it progress, because usually members are attacking each other,” he said.
He revealed that FBI Director James Comey, during a previous closed-door hearing, “wouldn’t answer many questions. So I asked him to go back to the Justice Department and perhaps come back to the committee with a different perspective, and he did,” Schiff said.
He also alluded to the reports that Trump, in the middle of Monday’s hearing, tweeted that “FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia.” Comey, after the fresh tweet was read to him, testified, “No, it was not our intention to say that today.”
The appearance of Comey along with National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, Schiff said, meant “we had the opportunity to fact-check the president in real-time.”