Rep. Schiff On Reports Russia Paid Afghan Insurgents To Kill U.S. Troops
NOEL KING, HOST:
Congressman Adam Schiff is one of the lawmakers going to the White House today. He's chair of the House Intelligence Committee. And he is on the line with me now. Good morning, sir.
ADAM SCHIFF: Good morning. Good to be with you.
KING: All right. You are chair of the intelligence committee. When did you learn of this intelligence?
SCHIFF: I'm not allowed to comment on that. At some point, they will either confirm or deny the actual intelligence reports. But until they do, I can't comment on that. I can tell you that I have and continue to have had, for some time, concerns about Russia's malevolent actions around the world, including in Afghanistan. And one of the questions I have when I go to the White House today is going to be, if this wasn't briefed to the president at a time when he was inviting Russia back into the G-8, why wasn't it? And if it was, why on Earth would he be welcoming Russia back in the community of nations if they're engaged in paying bounties for the killing of U.S. troops?
KING: There are lots of questions about who knew what and when in the White House. May I ask you, in terms of getting a sense of the timeline, what are some questions that you would like to ask in this meeting today? What's top of mind for you?
SCHIFF: Well, I'd like to have a sense from the intelligence agencies rather than the White House personnel what's their level of confidence in any intelligence that may exist? What are they trying to do to substantiate or challenge that intelligence? And it is often the case that Congress and the administration are told about intelligence even though there may be dissenting views.
Now, I don't know whether there were dissenting views here. But if there is credible information, that'd be shared with the president, who's making these decisions about force protection. And it can be caveated by saying, Mr. President, we have high confidence in this or low confidence or moderate confidence. But you don't deprive the commander in chief of information necessary to protect the troops.
KING: President Trump said the intelligence community told him they did not brief him because the information wasn't credible. Reporting, as you suggest, indicates there was a debate about whether or not it was credible. It sounds like you're saying precedent would suggest you tell the president regardless. You caveat if caveats are necessary. Do you think that President Trump is not telling the truth about what the intelligence community told him?
SCHIFF: It's certainly very possible. He has a history of dissembling and lying about things on a nearly daily basis. You know, one of the questions raised by this - is this in the category of those things you just can't tell the president because, like Russian interference in our election, telling the president things he doesn't want to hear is a good way to get a ticket out of the administration? That's a dangerous thing. We count on these agencies to speak truth to power. They have not always been willing to do it.
And there's been a greater degree of politicization of the intelligence community than any time since I've been in the Congress, which is deeply concerning. We can't even get a worldwide - public worldwide threats hearing because these agency heads are afraid of contradicting the president's preferred narrative. If they won't tell the country what it needs to hear, how much confidence can we have that even in private they're willing to confront the president say, hey, president, Mr. President, you're wrong. Russia is not our friend. Putin is not your friend. And here's what we have intelligence to show. I can't be confident those conversations are happening.
KING: There is another option here, though, sir. NPR has talked to former administration officials - many news outlets have, in fact. John Bolton springs to mind immediately. And they say that President Trump does not read his daily briefings. Is it possible that President Trump simply missed this?
SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly possible that it was in the presidential daily brief and he doesn't read the briefs. But, look; his staff and those that brief him know what his practice is. And if his practice is not to read the materials he's given, then they need to tell him about it. And so the question is, OK, if he wasn't going to read his materials, then you need to tell him.
You know, we've seen public reports about how difficult it is to brief the president and how he spends most the time talking about himself. But, look; in order to protect the country, you need to make sure the commander in chief has the information they need. What they do with it you can't always control. But you can make sure they know what they need to do to protect the country.
KING: In the seconds we have left - if this is true, how should the U.S. respond to Russia?
SCHIFF: I think Russia should be sanctioned. And it should certainly remain outside the community of nations. And we also should take further steps to make sure our troops are protected.
KING: Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.