RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump used his bully pulpit yesterday not just to celebrate his acquittal but to lash out at the House Democrats who brought the charges. He also attacked Mitt Romney, the only senator to cross party lines and vote to convict on the abuse of power charge. Romney says he expects, quote, "unimaginable consequences" for his vote. But what about the long-term consequences of the impeachment for the country? Steve Inskeep asked one of its key figures, House impeachment manager Adam Schiff.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: This was a months-long process, an extraordinarily difficult and divisive process. Was this process worth it?
ADAM SCHIFF: It was absolutely worth it. And we felt very strongly - and I think history will bear us out on this - that we needed to place a constraint on this president, who was acting unethically, who was sacrificing our national security, who was jeopardizing the integrity of our elections. And whatever the result was going to be in the Senate, we couldn't sit still. We had a constitutional obligation to make the case.
INSKEEP: He's still in office. He's claiming total vindication. His personal lawyer has told us he should go right back to seeking investigations of Joe Biden in Ukraine and, in fact, elsewhere. How, if at all, is he constrained now?
SCHIFF: Well, and you know, indeed, this is what we warned - that he would not stop trying to cheat, that his minions like Rudy Giuliani would continue to persist. That's a question, you know, best asked for the senators, who acknowledged the president's guilt, who have to acknowledge now that he is not repentant - much as some of them may have hoped. There was no reason for that hope. At the same time, though, I think the fact that this president has been impeached in the House of Representatives, has that stain upon his record and will for all of time, will - if not deter him, it will deter others from engaging in the same kind of misconduct. And I do think it poses some constraint on the president, even though it's imperfect. Had we done nothing, I think the president would have felt absolutely boundless.
INSKEEP: Have you had moments of wondering whether a different strategy might have produced a different result - investigating longer, spending some time in the courts to see if you would get some of your witnesses before the House, preemptively answering some of the complaints that some of the senators later made about your own process?
SCHIFF: I think those complaints are so clearly thin and unavailing that no, it doesn't cause me to second guess our strategy at all. Had we decided to pursue John Bolton in court, for example, we'd be in the same place we are right now with Don McGahn, which is nine months from now, we would still be litigating the matter with no end in sight. We would've had an election in which the president was actively trying to cheat. Other witnesses would take even longer. We would still be fighting over documents. We would go up to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court would decide, as lower courts have, there is no absolute immunity. And these witnesses would come in before us, and they would refuse to answer questions not on the basis of absolute immunity anymore but by claiming a bogus executive privilege, which we would then have to go all the way back up to the Supreme Court to litigate.
INSKEEP: This is what they did in Watergate, though. And, ultimately, the president resigned.
SCHIFF: Well, in Watergate, they were able to get a quick decision from the court, which we were not able to get here. And in Watergate, you had Republicans more willing to stand up to a president of their own party.
INSKEEP: Will you continue investigating these very same matters in Ukraine?
SCHIFF: We haven't made a decision about next steps in terms of the investigation. We did, after the senators voted not to hear from witnesses, approach John Bolton through his counsel. We asked that he submit an affidavit under oath - that is something we thought we could timely accomplish before the senators had to make a decision - and Bolton refused. Now, why did he...
INSKEEP: Did he say, I can't do it right now - that's too quick? Or did he say, I will never talk to you?
SCHIFF: I don't know whether they gave much of an explanation, but they just said they wouldn't do it.
INSKEEP: Two officials still on the administration that you wanted to hear from, Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Pompeo - do you still want to hear from them?
SCHIFF: I would still like to hear from them, but we have to make the decision about next steps in consultation with our caucus and our leadership.
INSKEEP: What do you weigh there? Whether you want to put your energy there or into something else? Is that the question that is at issue?
SCHIFF: Well, I think, you know, what we'll need to weigh is the need to validate Congress's oversight authority, the need to make sure the American people understand the full length and breadth of the president's misconduct, as well as others in the administration that were part of the misconduct, and, at the same time, the imperative of keeping our legislative agenda first and foremost and striking the right balance between the two.
INSKEEP: Just before you and I sat down, we learned that the Senate Intelligence Committee has put out findings having to do with the 2016 election and inadequate efforts, as they said, to counter Russian interference in the election. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman, described paralysis of analysis, thinking really hard about the options and not really taking any of them. Do you agree that that is how the Obama administration handled interference last time?
SCHIFF: I have been - really, since that whole chapter - have been critical of the Obama administration's handling of that. At the time, Senator Feinstein and I urged - as we were watching, in the summer of 2016, the Russians interfering - we urged the administration to go public, to attribute the hacking and interference to the Russians. There was reluctance by the Obama administration to do so. It was a concern on their part that making attribution in that way would be perceived as their - the Obama administration's - trying to put their hand on the scale in favor of the Clinton campaign as opposed to the Trump campaign. But my feeling and Senator Feinstein's was that the American people not only deserve to hear the truth but they need to to make informed judgment.
INSKEEP: You wish the president had said that more loudly. They put out a statement...
SCHIFF: He should have...
INSKEEP: ...He should have said it out loud.
SCHIFF: Earlier, more loudly. Now, ultimately, they did make attribution, but it was from two agency heads in a written statement that came out on the same day as the "Access Hollywood" tapes, and so it was obscured.
INSKEEP: Which foreign actors, if any, are trying to influence the U.S. election now?
SCHIFF: It is still predominantly the Russians. They are the gravest threat of election interference. And it really hasn't stopped since 2016. They will be better able to hide their hand in 2020. They have new tools that they can use, including deepfake technology that allows the production and dissemination of very realistic audio or video of speeches or photos or audio recordings that are completely forged - events that didn't take place, speeches that weren't given, things that weren't said - but can do so in a really convincing way. Or - as we saw in the cheap fake released of Nancy Pelosi, where one of her speeches was slowed down, and the pitch was raised, so it looked like she was impaired - they can play into narratives that they want to advance.
INSKEEP: You're calling that a cheap fake because that was not the most sophisticated thing that could have been done.
INSKEEP: Something far worse could have been harder to detect.
SCHIFF: ...I think probably any teenager could do that. And yet it got millions and millions of views, and it was pushed out by the president and his allies, even after they knew that it was a forgery. And, you know, this is a profound risk.
INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for your time.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
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MARTIN: That was Steve Inskeep talking with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.
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