ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from involvement in any investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. This comes after he acknowledged meeting with the Russian ambassador during the campaign when Sessions was a surrogate for the Trump campaign. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions said under oath, quote, "I did not have communications with the Russians." For some Democrats, recusal does not go far enough. Congressman Adam Schiff of California is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He wants Sessions to resign as attorney general. And he joins us now via Skype. Welcome to the program.
ADAM SCHIFF: It's good to be with you.
SHAPIRO: There were bipartisan calls for Sessions to recuse himself, and so far only Democratic lawmakers have called on him to resign. Do you risk looking like a knee-jerk partisan when you say he needs to step down?
SCHIFF: Well, look, it's a big step to say someone should resign, particularly when that person's the attorney general. But I think his explanations for why he misled the Senate just were not credible. And the idea that he either wouldn't remember meeting with the Russian ambassador or that his meeting with the Russian ambassador could be written off as something he did in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee just isn't believable.
But more than that, there is a major investigation that the Justice Department ought to be doing. And the recusal that he announced yesterday is only a partial recusal. Someone is going to have to decide within the Justice Department if Mike Flynn violated any U.S. laws and that took place after the campaign. This is something presumably Jeff Sessions will still decide, and I just don't think people can have confidence that that decision will be made wholly independent of the consequences to either he or the president.
SHAPIRO: You've also said that a special prosecutor needs to be appointed. Given that the FBI is investigating this matter - so are congressional committees, including yours - why do you think a special prosecutor is required?
SCHIFF: Well, a special prosecutor has a different role than we do in Congress. It's our job to look at the national security implications of what's taking place. A special prosecutor make the decision, do we go forward with criminal charges on the basis of what has been uncovered? And those decisions are still going to have to be made. Right now they will be made by the Department of Justice. Some of them will be made by the attorney general. I think those decisions need to be made by someone independent.
SHAPIRO: Do you see evidence of criminality? Right now, there are a lot of reports of meetings and conversations. It's been described as lots of smoke but no fire as of now.
SCHIFF: Well, I can't comment on the range of things that we may or may not be looking at. But I think you do have to look at Mike Flynn's conduct. And someone needs to make that decision with the requisite independence.
SHAPIRO: In pursuit of what is the question. If all of these meetings took place, if something was discussed that you're trying to uncover, what do you think the end goal is?
SCHIFF: Well, certainly, the end goal for the Russians is to try to influence our democracy, to sow discord United States, to influence the direction of the Trump administration. And I think we need to know, what were they able to achieve? How were they able to do it? Is there a continuing vulnerability of the country because there are individuals who have been compromised?
SHAPIRO: Continuing vulnerability because individuals have been compromised? Are you suggesting that Russia may have blackmail material on someone, that someone could unwittingly or knowingly be working as a spy? What are you implying?
SCHIFF: Well, I'm not implying anything. But I do think that all of these issues and allegations need to be investigated. You know, certainly, there are things I think that are very difficult to explain. If, for example, Mike Flynn was doing exactly what the president wanted him to do, then why did Mike Flynn mislead the vice president and through the vice president the entire country about what he was talking the Russian ambassador about? And were he still the national security adviser, you would have to say that this is a potential security threat to United States.
SHAPIRO: This week, the FBI director James Comey briefed you privately - your committee. And you came out afterwards and said that you were very dissatisfied that he wasn't answering the questions that lawmakers asked. What specifically upset you about that briefing?
SCHIFF: In order for us to do job, we can't become the FBI. We need to know what has the FBI investigated if anything. What leads have they pursued? We can't do that if they won't be forthcoming with us, if they won't answer our questions. And, unfortunately, a lot of the questions that members have asked during the meeting with Director Comey that were pertinent to our investigation he declined to answer.
SHAPIRO: Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, thanks very much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
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