The Meaning Of Michael Flynn's Guilty Plea
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's begin with a major development in the investigation into Russian interference into last year's elections. Yesterday, Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Flynn said he's cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. President Trump tweeted his reaction today, saying, quote, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide," unquote.
To talk about what comes next, we've called Representative Adam Schiff from California. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. That committee is leading one of the congressional investigations into Russian interference. He's with us now from his office in Burbank. Congressman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
ADAM SCHIFF: It's a pleasure to join you.
MARTIN: So what is the significance of Flynn's guilty plea?
SCHIFF: Well, it's significant in a couple of respects. First, this is a central player in the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, and the Trump administration. He's the national security adviser. So this is not someone the White House can say was a peripheral player, and he has now just pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians. In particular, here, the Russian ambassador - where the topic of the conversation was essentially doing an end-run around the sanctions that the Obama administration was imposing over Russia's interference on Mr. Trump's behalf during the campaign.
So that, in and of itself, is very significant. But then you add to it what he reveals in what's called the statement of the offense - basically, the factual basis for his plea - and that includes the fact that he was not acting on his own but rather he was acting on the instructions of the senior transition official or officials. And he also gave a read back to those officials about those conversations. That means that there were others in the know, and those people went on to the administration. So it's likely other shoes are going to fall.
MARTIN: So, I'd like to ask then, is that the focus going forward now that General Flynn has made his guilty plea? Is that the focus of your investigation, your committee's continued investigation going forward?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, an initial question we all have is, who are these transition officials? Some of them had been brought before our committee. And some of them have - all of them that have been brought before a committee have testified under oath. So we're going back now, and we will go back again when we see who these senior officials are to make sure that they testify truthfully before our committee and also determine whether any of them need to come back. I would hope that as a part of this plea agreement, which requires General Flynn to cooperate with the prosecutor, he will also be required to cooperate with Congress. We have deep interest in what he has to say, and I hope this guilty plea will make that possible.
MARTIN: Well, there are those on your committee who argue that your committee hasn't been pushing hard enough. For example, your fellow Democrat, Representative Eric Swalwell, says that he wants the intelligence panel to, quote, "conduct interviews where the witnesses are subpoenaed and their documents are compelled," he said, because right now, too many people come in voluntarily and decide not to turn over anything to us and we're not able to confront them. What do you say to that?
SCHIFF: Well, I think he's right. There are a number of problems that we've had in that committee. One of them certainly is witnesses have been scheduled without any consultation and before we get the documents to question them with. And then when they do come in and refuse to answer questions, the congressional prerogative is only as strong as our willingness to enforce it. When the attorney general comes in and doesn't invoke privilege because the executive hasn't asked him to, but just says, I won't answer that question, it's up to Congress to enforce that and to say, yes, you will answer that question unless there's some legally-recognizable privilege.
But if Congress sits on its hands and takes no for an answer, that erodes our constitutional authority. It erodes our ability to get to the truth. So yes, I think we need to use subpoenas, and we need to stand up and say, we're going to get the answers here.
MARTIN: That's Congressman Adam Schiff. He represents California's 28th District. He spoke with us from Burbank. Congressman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
SCHIFF: It's a great pleasure to be with you.
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