The leading Democrat on the House committee investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government said that President Trump personally commended his work last week — and was a helpful resource in accessing pertinent documents.
Rep. Adam Schiff went to the White House on Friday to view documents regarding possible surveillance of the Trump campaign that Rep. Devin Nunes, House intelligence committee chairman, has called into question. While in the building, Schiff said he and President Trump met in the Oval Office and spoke briefly about Schiff’s work on the committee.
“He said I did a good job,” Schiff tells Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric. “It was a perfectly cordial meeting.”
Schiff says that Trump also personally assisted in fixing an issue that arose pertaining to the document viewing. Schiff had been joined by his staff director, who has clearance to view the items but who was being denied access. Schiff told Couric that when he went into the Oval Office, “The president began the meeting by saying, ‘So, are you getting to see everything you wanted?’ And I said, ‘Actually, no — we have this issue,’ and I described what it was, and he said, ‘Well I’m fine with your staff seeing the documents — I have no problem with that.’”
Schiff says he heard “a lot of grumbling from the president’s staff behind me,” but the problem was resolved, and the staffer was able to see the documents.
Schiff said his conversation with Trump mostly centered around prescription drug costs and infrastructure spending. The latter is an issue he told the president he’d likely be able to find a great deal of Democratic support for.
Regarding Bloomberg’s report that Susan Rice, formerly President Obama’s national security adviser, requested the “unmasking” of U.S. persons connected to the intelligence reports in question, Schiff said he couldn’t speak directly about “individuals who may or may not be involved,” but he went on to give an impassioned defense of Rice.
“We spent two years on the Select Benghazi Committee, while Republicans looked for anything they could find to go after Susan Rice, and did so without success. The most Susan Rice did during the whole Benghazi chapter is speak publicly about what the intelligence community was telling her privately, which was exactly what you should do,” Schiff told Couric. “But nonetheless, for whatever reason, some on the far right have had Susan Rice in their crosshairs for a long time.”
Schiff explained that “unmasking” happens routinely, when an intelligence official requests that a name be revealed when trying to figure out who certain reports are referring to. “That is something very different than a leak,” Schiff told Couric.
Schiff wouldn’t comment on whether Rice was involved in an unmasking request, but said he’s “confident” that all oversight over the matter will be handled appropriately.
Couric also asked Schiff about the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who went to Iraq this week and is also reportedly the administration’s point man on Middle East peace, Mexico, opioid addiction and veterans’ affairs, in addition to heading the new Office of American Innovation and leading the way on the Chinese president’s visit this week. “By all accounts, this is highly unconventional. Do you think it’s appropriate?” asked Couric.
“I have profound questions about it, because he may be a perfectly fine gentleman, he may have very good advice for the president. … But he doesn’t have experience in any of these areas,” says Schiff. “And he’s acting as a super-secretary of state. I don’t know what that means in terms of Rex Tillerson’s job. But I can only imagine the firestorm that would have been provoked had Hillary Clinton made Chelsea her, essentially, second-in-command on all of these issues.”
“So I think it does raise a real concern. You have a president, himself deeply inexperienced on all of these matters, relying so heavily on a son-in-law who is equally inexperienced in all these matters.”
Specifically with regard to North Korea and the Middle East, Schiff tells Couric: “I’d feel more comfortable knowing that [Trump] was relying on Gen. Mattis and Gen. McMaster than his son-in-law.”
Schiff said his “real issue” is that President Trump is trying to run the country just as he ran his family business — “and it’s just not the same thing. And when you add the fact that the family business has so many financial entanglements, and there are so many issues that have already arisen about whether what the president is doing is in the national interest or his family’s financial interest, the heightened role now that his son-in-law plays only aggravates all those concerns.”
Schiff also spoke about the report in the Washington Post that Blackwater founder Erik Prince (who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) held a secret meeting in the Seychelles to establish a line of communication between president-elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If it were aboveboard, then why all the skullduggery and hiding in the Seychelles and having a third party arrange this back channel? So, there are, I think, a lot of important questions to be answered,” says Schiff.