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In unusually pointed comments about a member of President Biden’s Cabinet, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says he “vehemently” disagrees with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s failure so far to aggressively investigate former President Donald Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and other matters.
Appearing Tuesday on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast, the California Democrat was asked about the Garland Justice Department’s reluctance to launch investigations of the former president based on the 2018 report by former special counsel Robert Mueller that spelled out Trump’s efforts to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In a new book, “Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could,” Schiff writes that he viewed Mueller’s report as providing “a factual basis to charge the president with multiple crimes of obstruction.”
“I think there's a real desire on the part of the attorney general, for the most part, not to look backward,” Schiff said in response. “Do I disagree with that? I do disagree with that, and I disagree with it most vehemently when it comes to what I consider even more serious offenses. For example, a taped conversation of Donald J. Trump on the phone with Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state from Georgia, trying to coerce him into fraudulently finding 11,780 votes.
“Because I think if you or I did that, we'd be under indictment by now,” Schiff added. “In my view, you don't ignore the crimes that have been committed by a president of the United States. They need to be investigated. You may reach the judgment once you've investigated something that the public interest in not prosecuting a former president outweighs the interests of justice. But I don't think you could ignore the crimes.”
Schiff’s comments came as the Jan. 6 select committee, of which he is a member, is prepared to vote Tuesday night to hold former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena for testimony and documents relating to his conversations with Trump, as well as his advisers and lawyers, about their efforts to block Congress’s certification of the Electoral College results that Joe Biden won last November’s election. Bannon’s lawyer has said his client was responding to a request from the former president to refuse cooperation on the grounds that any advice Bannon gave was confidential and covered by executive privilege.
But Schiff said Bannon’s claims were without merit and that once the committee votes to hold Bannon in contempt, he expects the full House to vote to refer the matter to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
“The speaker will refer to the Justice Department, where the statute says the Justice Department has a duty to present it to the grand jury,” Schiff said. “Now, that duty is not always fulfilled. But there are some very positive signs that it will be fulfilled. It really needs to be.”
“I think the indications are strong that the Justice Department will take this seriously, as they should,” he added. “There's not even a colorable claim of privilege in Bannon's case. He was long gone from the administration by the time of the events that we're talking about. And what's more, he can't just say, ‘I'm gonna refuse to appear.’”
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to Schiff’s comments about Garland or his assertion that there were “positive signs” that the Justice Department will pursue the criminal prosecution of Bannon. But Schiff, who served as the lead House prosecutor during the first impeachment trial of Trump, said he is clearly most concerned about the Justice Department’s lack of prosecutorial zeal when it comes to the former president.
He said that “maybe I’m wrong” and that Justice is secretly collecting evidence from a grand jury into Trump’s efforts to pressure state officials in Georgia to overturn the election results in that state, which favored Biden. But he fears Garland and his top aides are relying on Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis, who has publicly confirmed her own investigation into the matter.
“I suspect that they’re counting on the Fulton County DA to do justice, and I don’t think that is how we ought to view the magnitude of that effort to overturn the election.”
Schiff even raised the question of why the former president is not being prosecuted for violation of the election laws in 2016, when he provided funds to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen to pay off a former porn star to keep silent about a long-ago sexual tryst with Trump.
“There's also an indictment in the Southern District of New York, in which individual No. 1 directed and coordinated a campaign fraud scheme in which the Justice Department argued that the guy who ... coordinated and directed, Michael Cohen, needed to go to jail,” Schiff said.
“So, what's the argument that the guy that did the coordinating and did the directing gets a pass? My view in light of Nixon being pardoned, the Justice Department taking a position you can't prosecute a sitting president, which I also disagree with — to say now that as a practical matter you can't prosecute a former president would make the president above the law.
“And that's a dangerous proposition in the abstract. Given that Trump is, I think, already running for president again, it's an even more dangerous prospect for the future.”
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