DOUG KRINER: Good morning, everyone. My name is Doug Kriner and I am a Professor of Government in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty Director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. On behalf of the institute's director, Representative Steve Israel, and everyone at the IOPGA, I would like to thank you all so much for coming today for today's Inside Congress event, and to thank you very much again for your patience and being here with us.
I'd also like to briefly thank some of the people that worked so hard to make today's event possible. First, I'd like to thank everyone at the Schwartz Center who welcomed us with open arms on very short notice to expand our seating capacity to make today available for so many of us. I'd also like to thank everyone at the Cornell Cinema who is hosting a livestream for the overflow crowd who was unable to be here today.
A huge thank you to Natalie Ryan and to everyone in the office of the Vice Provost of International Affairs staff for all of their support and their patience and all hours of the night for making this event possible. And finally, a big thank you to the Cornell and the Capitol Police officers who are ensuring our safe enjoyment of today's events.
So-- thank you.
The events of the past few weeks have really encouraged all of us to grapple with core questions of constitutional government, and what checks and balances and separation of powers mean in contemporary politics. We are really fortunate today to have the opportunity to engage these questions in a frank and open conversation with key players on the contemporary political stage.
Today's discussion will engage these questions in the spirit of academic inquiry and is in no way affiliated with any partisan or campaign purpose. So with that, it's now my pleasure to introduce to you an invite to the stage Alex Davis, a junior majoring in government and the College of Arts and Sciences, who will introduce our distinguished guests for today and our panelists. Alex?
ALEX DAVIS: Good morning, Ithaca, good morning, Ithaca. Good morning, Ithaca, it certainly is wonderful to see all of your faces this lovely Thursday morning before fall break. I trust that prelim season is treating you well. I don't plan to be before you long as we have very important things to talk about today, but I kind of want to run through some introductions so that we're all on the same page about our speaker's background and can maybe begin to think about how they're conceptualizing what we talk about today internally.
And we'll start off with Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents California's 28th congressional district. Throughout his tenure, he's focused on growing the economy, bolstering national security, strengthening our communities, helping small businesses, improving education, safety, and health care for America's children, and the list really goes on.
Now in his 10th term as a representative, Schiff serves as the Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the nation's intelligence agencies, including but not limited to Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, . Representative Schiff is a graduate of Stanford University, and of course, the lovely Harvard Law School. Adam and his wife Eve-- yes, you heard me correctly-- have two children, a daughter Alexa and a son Elijah.
Moving quickly to Representatives-- former Representative Steve Israel, who left Capitol Hill after 16 years as a representative for first New York's 2nd Congressional District and later in his career in New York's 3rd Congressional District to pursue a career as a writer. After writing two critically acclaimed satires of Washington, he currently heads Cornell University's Institute of Politics and Global Affairs in New York City.
Congressman Israel left in 2017, having served as House Democrat Chief Political Strategist between 2011 and 2015, as well as Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DCCC. He regularly appears as a political commentator on MSNBC, and his insights appear frequently in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, on 60 Minutes, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and the list also goes on.
He's one of only nine members of the House Democratic leadership, so he has a singular behind-the-scenes understanding of how Washington officials think or don't think. President Bill Clinton once called him one of the most thoughtful members in Congress, which Steve Israel says isn't really saying much at all.
Moving very quickly to Professor Douglas Kriner, who is the Clinton Rossiter Professor in American Institutions and in Department of Government here at Cornell University and the author of four books. Professor Kriner currently teaches Introduction to American government as well as a class on the American presidency, which is fitting for his current research which focuses on unilateral powers of the presidency and the informal political checks on against the imperial presidency.
And last but certainly not least, I would like to introduce friend and confidant to many, Geneva Saupe who's a double major in the government departments and comparative literature departments she has served as the Political Director of and now the Vice President of Cornell Democrats. Please join me in welcoming our panelists for the hour.
STEVE ISRAEL: Thank you, everybody. OK. Well how about a big hand for Alex and Geneva, our Cornell students, for the great job that they did and will do. And for those of you who are in the class that I have the honor of teaching on politics, media, and popular culture, for those of you who are here, you don't have to worry about the essay next week, you're good. Extra credit for being here.
Let me just set the stage, just a couple of minutes of context, and then we'll ask some questions, have a conversation, and then open it up to everybody who has attended. The Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University began last March. It has several functions. Number one, to deepen discourse.
In my 16 years in Congress, I had the sense, particularly towards the end, that discourse had really eroded, that respectful, polite discourse had frayed, that we were talking more and more in soundbites. They have this thing on the floor of the House called a one-minute speech where you have to summarize everything that you believe and think and support or oppose in one minute, and one minute is not sufficient to explain or analyze.
And so one of the primary functions of the institute is just to deepen that discourse. The second function we have is to raise understanding. We live in a really polarized and tribalized climate. And so we try and go beyond the soundbites and beyond our stovepipes and bring people in from both sides of the aisle to explain the volatilities, the complexities, the ambiguities of contemporary politics.
And so today we have my brother and friend Adam Schiff next week we have Reince Priebus who will be speaking at a program in New York City and taking us inside the White House. We had speaker Nancy Pelosi several months ago, we had Congressman Tom Cole, who's a Republican member-- and in fact, a leader of the Republican conference in Washington, DC.
So we urge you to attend our programs. Let me just commence your attention. Next week, as I said, Reince Priebus will be in New York on October 21. We're doing a program in US-Mexico relations under Trump, patterns of change and continuity. November 18 here in Ithaca, president's populism in American democracy. November 19, we'll be doing a state of play in New York City on the presidential election led by Charlie Cook from the Cook Political report with S.E. Cupp and Basil Smikle, who is a Cornell graduate. And then December 5 in New York City, Chris Matthews and other pundits will take us inside punditry and talk to us about the current media environment.
Today we have somebody who literally needs no introduction, although Alex did a very nice job. He and I were elected together to Congress in 2000, November 2000 in nationally-profiled races, and we became very fast friends. We joined different caucuses together, we created the Democratic Study Group on National Security Policy, and this was after 9/11.
We came to Congress-- for those of you who study Congress, we came to Congress knowing that we would need to understand foreign policy and national security, and then 9/11, and that changed everything for us and every member of Congress, where suddenly we had a very steep learning curve. And Congressman Schiff and I created the Democratic Study Group on National Security Policy and tutored ourselves on national security and foreign affairs, and brought in non-partisan thinkers and partisan thinkers. We had Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich came, and former speaker, and talked to us about the Republican Party's views on foreign affairs.
We both served on the Appropriations Committee together, sat next to one another, traveled the world together. He took a leave from the Appropriations Committee to go on the Intel Committee. And I'm going to share one story with you, one very brief story that gives you a sense of what happens to a member of Congress who is right for the times, or perhaps the times are right for them.
I had chaired the Democratic National Campaign Committee, so I was able to travel the country. Congressman Schiff and his wife Eve visited my wife Cara and I on Eastern Long Island one day-- you don't mind if I tell this story.
ADAM SCHIFF: I prefer this one to others you could tell.
STEVE ISRAEL: And so Adam and I, we just love bookstores. And we were out in this little town on the north fork of Long Island, the distant eastern part of it called Greenport, and Adam saw a bookstore that he wanted to duck into and he ducked in. Now I was quite used to people coming up to me on Long Island very frequently, because long islanders are not shy and they're not retiring. Sometimes they would sit at a diner with me. Hey, Mr. Israel, I hope you don't mind, but I gotta talk about something.
And so I notice across street there's a guy kind of looking at me. And I leaned over to Cara and said, here it comes, get ready. The price of fame. This guy comes across the street, kind of rushes across the street and he's breathless, and I'm, yes? And he says, was that Adam Schiff who just went in there?
Then I knew that Adam Schiff had reached a level of stature. And the other thing you should know about him is his stature-- despite what you hear on the talk shows-- and I say this as somebody who's on MSNBC frequently, including tomorrow, when you talk to members of both sides of the aisle, most will tell you that his thoughtfulness, his profound approach to complexities is deeply respected on both sides of the aisle. You hear a lot of what you would expect to hear in a polarized environment. But I have known him for over 20 years and he is a deep thinker.
He could have been doing anything today. I'll tell you, I was up until last night, I was like 60-40 that he wasn't going to be able to come because of what he's going through and the work that he's doing, but he chose to come to Ithaca, New York, to Cornell University to talk to you today. Give him another big hand.
Anything going on in your life recently? [LAUGHS]
ADAM SCHIFF: No, it's pretty quiet, really.
STEVE ISRAEL: Yeah, yeah.
ADAM SCHIFF: I was just thinking when you're telling that story of my favorite interaction with you on Long Island was going into a restaurant in Steve's district, and someone coming up to us quite gregariously and saying, oh, Mr. Israel, how nice it is to have you in our restaurant. And Steve just says, well thank you, and he says, although I gotta say, it's not like I ever voted for you.
STEVE ISRAEL: That was my district.
ADAM SCHIFF: And I leaned over to Steve and I said, the difference between your New York district and my Los Angeles district is my constituents might think that, they probably wouldn't say that.
STEVE ISRAEL: So let's get to the first question. Look, there are clearly going to be questions by our panelists and by members of the audience about impeachment. I want to begin with a different kind of question, because the Intel Committee has jurisdiction much deeper and much broader than impeachment.
One of the things that I worry about-- and I wanted to ask you two share your feelings on-- is this sense that democracy around the world is under assault. That Russia, China, and others are very aggressive in trying to undermine and erode democratic norms around the world. What are you learning from the Intel community that you can talk about and what are your perspectives?
ADAM SCHIFF: First of all, thank you, Steve, for inviting me, and I'm just thrilled to be here. I love being on campus. This is one of the most magnificent colleges and universities and campuses anywhere in the country, so it's a treat to be with you today. One of the things that became very apparent over the last couple of years as we were investigating Russia's interference in our election was how this may have been quite novel and unique in the sense that Russia had never so fully completely involved itself in an American election, but that this wasn't really unique to America, that Russia, in fact, had been interfering in other countries for a long time.
But it will also wasn't unique to Russia that there were other challenges to liberal democracy going on around the world. China represents, I think, one of the gravest challenges to liberal democracy. It is using its technological means and might to maintain control of its own people, and it is exporting that technological ability to other countries. China has, for example, something it calls and classically Orwellian terms "safe cities." That means they have positioned CCTV cameras in every major city, in every major intersections, and a lot of minor ones.
Those cameras with facial recognition software are tied into a big database that has information about people's social media postings, about their travel, about those that come to visit them, about their credit rating. And this big data allows them to maintain an iron grip on their people.
But it also means that they're exporting this technology to other countries, to other autocratic regimes. And quite separate and apart from what Russia is doing in its malignant way, what China is doing in this technological way, you have the indigenous growth of autocracy around the world. You have this rise of the far right in places like Hungary and in Poland, the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey and in the Philippines and in Brazil, you have the rise of far-right parties in France and Germany and Austria.
You have what I think is the most vigorous challenge to the very idea of liberal democracy since World War II. Something that has caused us to question an assumption that we all been operating under, living in a world in which year after year, decade after decade, more people around the world were living in free societies with a free press, with the freedom of religion and expression, only to find that we are at an inflection point, and we cannot say that about next year, let alone the next generation. And of course, we have our own, I think, dangerous challenge to democracy within.
And so for me, the big story coming out of the Russia investigation was that the challenge to democracy goes beyond what happened in 2016, it goes beyond what Russia is doing. There is a very new and pernicious ideological struggle going on now between democracy and representative government and dictatorship and autocracy. This, I think, is the seminal ideological challenge of our time, and it is not one that we can go into thinking that by dint of force of nature, this conflict will be resolved the way it should.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King, that the moral arc of the universe may be long, but it's bending towards justice, and one of the ways it is bending towards justice is by bending towards democracy. As it would turn out, democracy is something that every generation has to not only cherish, but has to fight for. And I think at a time when the President of the United States is not that champion of democracy, is not that champion of human rights, is instead so often making common cause with the dictators and disdaining our fellow democracies, it falls on all the rest of us in Congress, in society to take up that cause, because it is, I think, gravely at risk.
GENEVA SAUPE: Yeah, so I'm going to ask a question about the impeachment inquiry, might as well get into it. So I've heard the argument floating out there-- and I'm sure you have, too-- that the House has some sort of duty to impeach that Trump has violated so many norms and so many facts within American political life. That the House needs to push back, that someone needs to do something about this, and impeachment is a way to sort of like assert what is true and assert what is normal.
I'm curious like what you think of that argument sort of largely, and then also how you think about the sort of justifications for impeachment and how they affect the way that you would actually conduct the investigation on a day-to-day basis.
ADAM SCHIFF: Yeah. Well, some of you may know who have watched this over the last couple of years, I have not been-- was not a early advocate champion of impeachment. At a time, many in our party were and many in our Congress were. And I wasn't because it seemed to me the strongest argument for impeachment was also the strongest argument against impeachment, and that is the strongest argument for impeachment was, if you failed to impeach the president regardless of what would happen in a trial in the Senate, what message does that send to the next president and the next Congress about whether this conduct is compatible with office? Will the next president read into the failure to act that they are beyond the reach of any form of accountability?
That is, I think, a terrible and dangerous message to be sending to a future president, to Congress. At the same time, if the president is impeached and acquitted in the Senate and there is an adjudication that this conduct is not impeachable, what message does that send to the next president and the next Congress? What precedent would then be upheld in terms of whether conduct, which I view as so incompatible with office, is impeachable or not?
This has been the dilemma. It is only a dilemma because one party thus far has decided to abdicate its responsibility to uphold the principles of the Constitution in favor of an absolutist defense of the president. In many respects-- and this has been a, I think, startling realization for me, the President of the United States has completely remade a major political party in his flawed image and practically overnight. And what has our democracy so trembling right now is so few of my Republican colleagues are willing to speak out, stand up in any meaningful way in the face of a president engaged in such grievous misconduct.
If that were not the case, they would not be the dilemma. But as it is the case, it has been a very difficult decision. Now with the revelation of the latest misconduct by the president, my view in terms of that balance has changed. It was one thing when the president as a candidate for office sought foreign help in a US election, it was another worse thing that as the President of the United States, he obstructed justice by trying to cover up his misconduct during the election, but it is worse still as president that he is now using the full power of his office to coerce another country into intervening in our election on his behalf. And doing so at a time that he was withholding vital military assistance to defend against Russian aggression.
So these are actions that jeopardize our national security, that are inviting a foreign country to illegally involve itself in our campaign. It is hard to describe a course of conduct more within the panoply of offenses that the Founders were concerned about when they drafted an impeachment clause, and that is the Founders were deeply concerned about foreign influence in our affairs. They just fought a revolution, they were worried about not only foreign interference in American politics, but for a foreign hold on an American leader.
And so particularly when the president engaged in this conduct the day after Bob Mueller testified, it said to me that the risks that this president walk away with a message of impunity is the far greater peril right now. The risk that the president feel that he can do anything, no matter how improper, illegal, egregious, and there is no accountability is the principal danger right now.
And so for me, that has changed the calculus. Now there's been no decision made about whether to seek articles of impeachment, but there has been a very definite decision made that we need to initiate and have initiated a formal impeachment process, an impeachment inquiry. And I think that the reason why the public is now so solidly behind that is that for the public, too, this latest misconduct is a bridge too far.
And so we are approaching the process mindful of the historic significance of it, mindful of the consequences in terms of the president's conduct going forward, and with a paramount eye to protecting the country, and exposing if there is other wrongdoing that jeopardizes the country, making sure that we can expose it.
So we are being methodical, but we're also proceeding with a sense of urgency. The Inspector General found this complaint credible and urgent. If there is other misconduct around these events or other misconduct that is not around these events that is also urgent, it needs to be exposed to protect the country. And so we are moving methodically, but we are moving with expedition. And of course-- and we can discuss this more later, we are running into a White House now determined to add to its misconduct by obstructing the constitutional functions of the Congress.
STEVE ISRAEL: Mr. Kriner?
DOUG KRINER: I'd like to pick up on that last part of your answer, Congressman Schiff, sort of a broader question about separation of powers. So historically, investigations have been a really important tool through which Congress has pushed back against an ascendant executive. When you think about it, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. published The Imperial Presidency in 1973. One year later, the imperial presidency is gone, right? And he's gone because of an investigation.
But for an investigation to work, Congress has to be able to have access to the information that it's constitutionally entitled to use its oversight powers and to exercise that check. On Tuesday, we had President Trump refusing to allow Ambassador Sondland to appear before your committee and two others. We had the White House counsel's letter saying that the administration refused to comply with the impeachment inquiry deeming it a violation of separation of powers.
And this is just part of a larger pattern within the administration throughout since the 116th Congress took office of blanket assertions of executive privilege, refusal to comply with subpoenas, and basically challenging Congress at every step of the way as it tries to use its oversight powers.
I wondered if you could try and help contextualize for us a little bit the Trump administration's recent actions in this regard with respect to recent administrations, and also comment on what the implications of this are for checks and balances and the health of our constitutional democracy beyond the impeachment crisis regarding Ukraine.
ADAM SCHIFF: Yeah. Well, this is a very important question because what is really at stake right now in addition to everything else is the separation of powers. The constitutional structure in which the Congress is a coequal branch of government with the executive. If the administration can demonstrate by its blinkered obstructionism that Congress is powerless to do its oversight, that will fundamentally alter the balance of power in our constitutional structure indefinitely.
It will also mean that any future president can be as corrupt as they want, as negligent as they want, as malfeasance as they want, and know that there's no accountability. That if Congress seeks to look into the matter, they can just refuse to make witnesses available, they can refuse to provide documents.
I can say there's no historical precedent for the absolute nature of this administration's stonewalling. And it's taken a variety of different forms. It has taken the form of ignoring a statutory mandate, for example, on the president's tax returns. The president says upon-- the statute says upon the request of the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, the Treasury shall provide the president's tax returns. They're ignoring the clear letter of the law.
When the Congress has sought information about violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibiting a president from enriching himself in office, particularly vis-a-vis, again, foreign powers, the administration has stonewalled those requests. On issues related to the Russia investigation and the obstruction of justice investigation, they have stone stonewalled the provision of witnesses like-- key witnesses like Don McGahn.
Just this week they were in court, arguing that the interviews with Don McGahn should not be provided to Congress, that none of the grand jury material should be provided to Congress. And when, of course, the court was asked about their view, well during Watergate, Judge Sirica ordered the grand jury material to be provided to Congress for the purposes of the Watergate proceedings. The administration's response was, that was a mistake. That opinion was wrongly decided. That is, Watergate should have never happened. Congress should have never been given the information about the president's misconduct.
And you know what the judge's reaction was? Wow. Wow. Well, it deserved a wow. This is an absolutist position of Bill Barr, which is there is a unitary executive in which we all serve the president. In which effectively the president is above the law. In one courtroom they have been arguing that you cannot indict a president, and because you cannot indict a president, you cannot criminally investigate a president. You can only impeach a president, that's the remedy of impeachment.
In another court, they're arguing you cannot impeach the president. You cannot, as Congress, even get the evidence to make a decision about impeachment. You can only have an investigation of the president by the Justice Department. So they're taking conflicting positions in two different courts.
But the broader problem is that they are obstructing everything. And this poses, I think, among the most dire challenges to the separation of powers. Presidents throughout history have been unhappy about congressional oversight. Presidents throughout history have to one degree or another resisted congressional oversight. But never anything like this. During the ill-fated and ill-purposed Benghazi investigation, tens if not hundreds of thousands of documents were provided and dozens and dozens of witnesses were provided, and yet for the Trey Gowdys of the world, that was not enough.
Trey Gowdy has now been brought on as outside legal counsel arguing that Congress should get nothing. And it just demonstrates how willing the Justice Department under Bill Barr is to defend the president no matter what, how much his allies and acolytes are willing to defend even what is a patent violation of the constitutional separation of powers.
And I'll tell you, each time congressional oversight has been challenged and taken to court, the Supreme Court has validated Congress's power of oversight. Effectively finding that if Congress cannot compel people to come and testify, if Congress cannot compel the production of documents, there's no way that it can fulfill its legislated oversight roles. Because without the power to compel, and insist upon compliance, you cannot determine what problems need to be remedied through legislation, you cannot root out corruption.
And so the courts have uniformly held in Congress's favor on any substantial issue involving congressional oversight, including, of course, the Watergate tapes. But I'll tell you one thing that is fundamentally different than Watergate that works to the president's advantage-- and it's not the existence of tapes. Here we have a call record, which is the modern equivalent of the Watergate tapes showing the president's misconduct in all of its graphic nature.
No, the difference between then and now is not the presence of tapes, but the presence of Fox. The presence of an alternate information ecosystem in which the president's supporters can live-- not just Fox, but Breitbart and other sort of right-wing media, and in particular, Fox primetime.
And I'll give you what I think is a perfect illustration of the difference between then and now by sharing with you one of my favorite highlights of the whole Watergate saga. And that is when the tapes were discovered and Nixon didn't want to turn them over, he came up with a perfectly Trumpean solution, and that is, he proposed, we'll share the tapes with James Stennis, Senator James Stennis, who was this old white conservative Democrat from the South. We'll let him listen to the tapes and he can tell the country what's on them.
Now not only was this a conservative who was sort of favorable for the president, but Stennis was notoriously deaf. And so they're going to give the tapes, which are tough to understand because they didn't have the technology to cancel out the noise, they're going to give the tapes to the deaf guy and let him tell the country what's on them.
Now of course, that idea went nowhere, it was ridiculed as it should have been ridiculed. Today if Donald Trump made that suggestion, on Fox primetime they would be saying what a brilliant idea it is. How it's just the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we've come to expect of this president, and how the only reason Democrats don't want this fellow Democrat James Stennis to listen to the tapes and tell the country what's on them in this Solomonic solution where we can learn what's on them, but we preserve the privilege, the only reason Democrats are against it is they know that James Dennis will tell the truth.
And it's that world that allows the president to have his supporters live in an alternate reality. That it presents a fundamentally different challenge today than the country faced during Watergate when there wasn't such a polarization, when there were Republicans willing to stand up to the president, when there were institutionalists who put the interests of the institutions of our democracy ahead of party interests that make the challenge so fundamentally different, and that I think is a big factor in the president's calculus in terms of obstruction.
I will say one other point, and this sort of gets to both of your questions about norms. A lot of things that we thought were inviolate norms we have found out no, actually can be violated and sometimes with impunity. One of those norms is that you as an administration abide by basic oversight responsibilities of the Congress.
And so George Bush did and George Herbert Walker Bush did and Bill Clinton did and Barack Obama did, and presidents throughout history have, much as they may have griped about it in the process, they respected that not only norm, but that institution and that feature of our democracy. This president hasn't. And we are already writing our own post-Watergate reforms, and one of those reforms will be expedited process for congressional subpoenas so that we never get into a situation again with an administration that thinks they can play rope-a-dope with the Congress and draw out endlessly through litigation whether it must comply with the law and the Constitution.
STEVE ISRAEL: I know that there are other questions from the panel, but you all have joined us, and I want to make sure that we leave ample time for you-- we had a late start. So let's go to some audience questions and answers. Yes, sir? I'm going to-- yes-- please stand up, tell us your name, ask the question briefly. Here's a microphone for you.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I'm Christopher Van. I wanted ask you, representative, what is your opinion on the House's potential use of its inherent contempt power to compel the production of documents or testimony from members of the administration?
ADAM SCHIFF: And I should start by explaining what that power of inherent contempt is for people. Essentially up until the 1930s, the Congress exercised a power called inherent contempt where if a witness refused to show up or produce documents, we would send the Sergeant at Arms of the House or the Senate out and arrest them. And there was a jail in the capital and we would jail them until they complied.
And this was tested in the courts, it went all the way up the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court found that this was a constitutionally sound power, that, as I mentioned earlier, that if Congress can't effectuate its will in terms of oversight, then it's meaningless. Witnesses can simply willy nilly refuse to show up or provide information, then the congressional power to oversee agencies, departments, et cetera is mooted.
And so we've had a discussion, should we resurrect this power? It is a power that we give ourselves by rule, so we could adopt a rule tomorrow authorizing the Congress once again and setting out the process for holding an inherent contempt proceeding. Now as attractive as the prospect is of locking up some of these people who are not complying with the lawful process of Congress, a more modern iteration of that might be to use that process where you effectively try the person in the House, you allow them to make their defense, but if you find them wanting and ignoring the law, you could impose a daily fine on them until they comply. A fine that would be personal to them and not to be paid for by their agency or department.
And so we are weighing that. The difficulty with that is not unlike the broader difficulty with having to use the courts and that is in order to garnish their wages, in order to secure the payment of those fines, we would have to go to court to do it. Even if we were to resurrect the prison and throw them in jail, they would file a habeas corpus and we would be required to go through litigation.
So inherent contempt, while we are considering it, and there are certain attractive things about it, does not solve completely the fundamental problem of delay. And so it's not a perfect solution, none of these things are. But I will also say that it is not necessarily the case that we have to choose one method or the other, are multiple methods that can be employed. And even as we have made clear that efforts to prevent the Congress and the public from finding out about the president's misconduct vis-a-vis Ukraine and how deep it ran will be considered acts of obstruction of Congress that may merit their own article of impeachment.
Even as we have made that abundantly clear, it is also the case that we don't have to wait on that judgment even as we pursue our ability to fully flesh out the facts. And it may very well be that the investigation continues and must continue even after a decision has been made about articles of impeachment.
STEVE ISRAEL: All right, let's take a question from the far-right spatially, not ideologically. Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm Taylor Edwards. My question is, a popular Republican talking point has been that there was no quid pro quo on the phone call with Ukraine. Is it necessary to prove that there was, in fact, a quid pro-- I'm sorry, a quid pro quo in order to impeach, or is soliciting help from a foreign government in an election sufficient to impeach?
ADAM SCHIFF: The short answer is that solicitation is enough. And here, of course, you have not solicitation of Ukraine in a vacuum, you have solicitation of Ukraine after a solicitation of Russia. And the evidence that came out during the Mueller investigation is really, in many ways, a predicate for the president's most recent misconduct.
But it is against the law to solicit foreign help in a US presidential election. That does not require there be a quid pro quo. And quid pro quo really is a legal issue that comes up in a bribery context-- that is, I will pay you or offer you something of value to do this if you will do something of value for me.
In a case involving extortion-- that is, unless you do this for me, I'm going to punish you, there is no quid pro quo requirement either. But here, I think the call record makes abundantly clear there was a solicitation, and in the president saying that-- right after the president of Ukraine says we want more of these Javelin anti-tank missiles to protect us from the Russians, the president says, I want you to do us a favor, though. There is a strong suggestion of a quid pro quo in terms of military assistance.
And when you look at the text messages that have thus far come to light, they quite clearly describe one of the other pivotal asks of the Ukraine present being dependent on a quid pro quo. And that is the Ukraine president wanted two things for the United States at that point in time-- and bear in mind, this is a country that is completely dependent on the United States. Militarily, economically, diplomatically, we are their most important partner, and no other country comes in anywhere close.
That president wanted two things during that call and prior to that call, and that is a meeting with the president at the White House and the prestige that would bring, the statement that would make, the relationship-building effect that would have, this was something the Ukraine president desperately sought is that meeting. And many other world leaders seek the same thing for many of the same reasons.
The other was continued military support. And when you look at those text messages that talk about-- and I think this was one of Ambassador Sondland's text messages-- the president wanting a deliverable. And wanting that deliverable publicly. It wasn't enough that Ukraine agreed to do these two investigations, one of the Bidens and one of this kooky conspiracy theory that Russia didn't interfere in our election in 2016, it was really Ukraine. I mean, it's hard to even wrap your head around that other theory, but it's nonetheless one that the president has embraced.
And so it's quite clear from those text messages that they are talking about a quid pro quo. And there's even a suggestion in the text messages that the quid pro quo may even go deeper and involve military support when one of the other diplomatic officers says-- as I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to be withholding military support for help on a political campaign.
So there is a growing body of evidence of a quid pro quo certainly on the meeting and perhaps on the military aid. None of that is necessary, though, for the Congress to reach that conclusion-- if we do-- that the president's solicitation of foreign help in yet another election at a time when the president was withholding military support and withholding a meeting, whether it was express or implied, as a quid pro quo-- the solicitation of help under those circumstances betrays our national security, betrays his oath of office to faithfully execute the laws, and here, one of the laws was the bipartisan appropriation of money to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.
And so the president would like to raise the bar as high as he can possibly make it, but the mere solicitation, I think, would have been considered by our Founders and should be considered by us today a grievous abuse of the president's office and violation of his duty to defend the Constitution.
STEVE ISRAEL: All right, let's go far back. We have Rory and Thomas, our two Cornell student ambassadors to the Institute. When you raise your hand and I recognize you, they'll bring mics over.
AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is Omar Nesheiwat. And I was wondering kind of just like how the whistleblower program has been revamped under like the new Inspector General, Michael Atkinson, and kind of just like-- because I know that there are a lot of problems with it like under like the Bush administration, for example, it wasn't as like organized or productive or efficient. So like now under Michael Atkinson after he was appointed, like how it's kind of been revamped.
ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I think that Inspector General Atkinson has done a remarkable job and in two respects. First that there was a real backlog of whistleblower complaints at the time that he took that position, and there had been a lot of turmoil within that office prior to his appointment. And I think he has worked very quickly and very diligently to professionalize the office to deal with whatever personnel issues there were, to work down the backlog of issues that had been raised by people, concerns that they had raised.
But most significantly, this Trump-appointed inspector general has done exactly what he's supposed to do, and that is be independent. When a whistleblower comes to the Inspector General, the law provides that that Inspector General has two weeks to do a preliminary investigation and determine is that complaint credible and is it urgent?
And then that complaint is to be forwarded with the Inspector General's conclusions to the Director of National Intelligence-- in this case, an acting director, Maguire. The statute says then that acting director has seven days to transmit it to Congress. Now they can add whatever commentary they want. I agree with the Inspector General, I don't agree, I found them credible, not credible, whatever.
There was no provision to ignore the injunction of the statute. It shall be provided to Congress. Because part of the complaint system is to allow information to get to the Congress. And the acting director didn't do that. So seven days came and went, and the Inspector General learned that the director had not transmitted the complaint. And ultimately, the Inspector General informed our committee that against his recommendation and at odds with the statute, a urgent and credible complaint was being withheld from Congress.
That was exactly what the Inspector General should have done. And particularly here where the complaint involves wrongdoing by the president, allegations of a cover-up as well, and involves potentially the Attorney General, the idea that any of the subjects of a whistleblower complaint should have a veto over whether that complaint ever sees the light of day is a serious problem.
And so in terms of the Inspector General, I think the Inspector General is doing exactly what he should do in terms of protecting the whistleblower. And not just this whistleblower, but protecting the entire whistleblowing process. That not only is the whole of government dependent on, but the intelligence community is the most dependent on.
When I have a hearing in the Intel Committee, most of the time it's in closed session. Because we're talking about classified matters. And while there is a reason to do it that way, and there's a reason to do witness interviews in the investigation in closed session so that one witness can't tailor their story to dovetail with another witness, it does mean that in the context of oversight, when agencies come and brief us about this agency action or that agency action, there aren't outside validators who can say that's not right or that's not true.
If you're on the Transportation Committee and you have a hearing on high speed rail and the administration witness says, oh everything is on pace and on track and everything is going great, any stakeholder watching can say-- and can approach Congress and say, that's not true. You need to know, this is overbudget, there are these problems and those.
We are dependent in the intelligence community and in the intelligence committee on the intelligence agencies self-reporting problems. And generally they do. But when they don't, we are completely dependent on whistleblowers. And so an attack on this whistleblower is an attack on the entire system. Threats against this whistleblower or people who in good faith expressed concerns about wrongdoing in this administration, other whistleblowers. Threats against them threaten the entire system of exposing misconduct.
And of course, that's part of the president's design in trying to expose the identity of the whistleblower and calling those others that may have exposed wrongdoing in the administration traitors and spies and suggesting there used to be a way we dealed with-- we dealt with traitors and spies, and that is, of course, we used to execute them.
This is an effort to prevent the president's misconduct from coming to light. As you could see in his many Twitter responses to the investigation, including his claim the other day that he has an absolute right to ask foreign countries to help his political campaign, this is a president who believes that he is entitled to do anything no matter how unlawful or unscrupulous, and that for anyone to expose it means they are a traitor.
That's not how our constitutional system works. That may be how a monarchy or a dictatorship works, that's not how our system works. But make no mistake, these threats some thinly veiled, not some not veiled at all, are designed to discourage people of conscience and good faith and courage from coming forward. And our country is more dependent on them now than at any time, I think, in memory.
STEVE ISRAEL: All right, hands. Yes, sir? Forgive me for pointing, but yes? And we have about 15 minutes left for questions.
AUDIENCE: Hi, yeah. I'm David. I'm wondering-- I'm sure you've heard about the president-- his Twitter account and some Republicans calling for your resignation over the version of the transcript that you read in the Intelligence Committee. I'm wondering what your response is to that and whether or not you thought that what you read was appropriate.
ADAM SCHIFF: Yeah. Well, you know the attacks-- and for those of you that didn't watch the opening statement, I mocked the president's mafia or rather organized crime-like shakedown of the President of Ukraine. And prefaced it by saying that these were in sum and substance what he said or what he was trying to communicate, and made it clear both before and after that these were not the president's actual words.
So the fact-checkers that have checked this attack on me have rated it false. So why are they doing it when they know it to be false? This is the tactic they used with Mueller that they're employing again, which is, if you don't want to have to defend the president's conduct, you just attack. Let's attack Democrats, let's attack Adam Schiff, let's attack Speaker Pelosi, let's do anything we can accept talk about the president's misconduct.
And so they, I fully expect, will continue to call for my resignation, my censure, they will demonize me on Fox. I just treat it like the noise that it is and keep my head down, keep my sights focused on the work that I have to do, and know that the attacks are going to come. It's all they have.
And I think you can see in Kevin McCarthy someone who will do anything the president wants-- indeed, everything the president wants, and not a decision he makes is done without the president's approval. So this is a White House-orchestrated communications campaign, and our response to it has to be to always bring it back to the facts.
They can attack the whistleblower who is courageous, but we already know what the whistleblower said was accurate because we have the call record. They can attack me. Doesn't change what the president did on that call, it doesn't change what the State Department was doing before that call, it doesn't change what the State Department was doing after that call. It doesn't change what the president did in withholding military aid, it doesn't change either trying to condition this White House meeting on digging up dirt on the Bidens.
So you know the attacks will come with my position, but none of it is a substitute for the hard questions that the Republicans are going to have to ask, which is, are they going to continue to defend this president no matter how dangerous and unethical his conduct may be?
STEVE ISRAEL: Any questions over here on this side? Yes, please? Yes.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm Alex [? Legess, ?] thank you for being here and speaking with us. What do you think the role of the United States should be in dealing with global threats to democracy, including dealing with Russia and its interference in our elections, as well as dealing with China and its surveillance technologies within its own country persecuting legal Muslims, as well as the exploitation of these technologies? Thank you.
ADAM SCHIFF: Yeah. Well thank you for the question. I'll tell you what should be happening and then I'll tell you what is happening. What should be happening is the President of the United States should be sitting down with his cabinet and saying, Director Haspel, the CIA, what are you learning about Russia's plans and intentions in the next election?
Secretary of Defense, I want you to draw up for me a proportionate response to whatever the Russians do as soon as we see them doing it. What's a proportionate response to the Russian's continual engagement in social media to push out false information or divide Americans? What's a proportionate response if they once again hack our democratic institutions and start dumping documents?
What's a proportionate response-- and this is one of my grave concerns going into 2020-- what's a proportionate response if the Russians push out what's called a deep fake-- this is a new technology that allows you to produce utterly convincing and yet utterly fraudulent video or audio. What if they push out a deep fake video of Joe Biden saying something he never said or Elizabeth Warren or Donald Trump? Something suggesting that they're misogynist or racist or whatever? What's a proportionate response?
Secretary of State Pompeo, what are you communicating to Lavrov about the sanctions Russia is going to face if they screw with us again? If they don't like the sanctions we placed on them over 2016, you need to make sure they understand that is child's play compared to how we're going to come down on their economy if they screw with us again.
Secretary of Homeland Security, what are the states doing to protect their voting infrastructure? How many states still lack a paper trail in their key voting jurisdictions? How many states have not yet taken advantage of the protocols you have to offer the, technologies you have to offer to test and plumb their voting systems to determine how vulnerable they are to foreign interference?
That's what the President of the United States should be doing. Instead, of course the President of the United States is inviting foreign interference. And anyone who brings up the subject is considered disloyal, and what's more, causing the public to question the validity of his initial election let alone what happens in 2020.
So this is what should be happening, this is what, in fact, is not happening and quite the opposite. Far from trying to deter others from intervening again, he is sending a message to Putin and anyone else-- Putin, Xi, you name it-- that not only will I not get in the way of your foreign interference, I may even welcome it.
I think that's the message he delivered in Helsinki, although that was not the message he was supposed to communicate, but by questioning in his own intelligence agencies, by saying that I trust Vladimir Putin over my own agencies, he basically was communicating to Putin that he is such a weak president that he will not stand up to Putin no matter what Putin does to interfere in our affairs as long as it's on his side.
And so what is happening on the positive side of things is at the agencies, at the mid-level, sometimes at the top level, there's important work going on in the intelligence community. We are trying to make sure that we can divine what Russia's plans and intentions are, what China is doing around the world, how we can push back against what China is doing around the world in terms of the export of these technologies, in terms of the cooperation of American technologies to help them survey their own people or surveil other countries, surveil their own people. We are calling attention in Congress to the imprisonment of over a million Uyghurs. We are doing the work the president is not.
But of course, Congress is not a perfect substitute for an administration that is not only not doing what it should, but affirmatively doing the opposite of what it should. But we are doing all we can, and will continue to do so right up to election day.
STEVE ISRAEL: When the President of the United States attacks, diminishes, degrades his own intelligence community, what is the effect on the IC? What's the effect on morale? What are you hearing?
ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I'm, as you might imagine, constantly in touch with members of the IC. Some time ago I did a town hall at the CIA where I could hear from officers and analysts their concerns about things.
I would say that up until recently-- and I don't know how this may be changing right now-- that the morale within the agencies was holding. That the people who work within the IC are very dedicated professionals. They're often in dangerous parts of the world with no safety net, and they are used to being in a difficult spot and doing their job, doing their patriotic duty, which is an apolitical-- absolutely apolitical duty. And so they've continued to keep their head down and do their work. But there have been disturbing signs along the way of interference in that work. I did a hearing, for example, on the national security impacts of climate change.
Now this may not be one of the things you tend to think of associated with climate change, but one of the repercussions of climate change is that the Russians now have much more freedom of mobility in the Arctic because they don't have the same ice obstructing the way. It means that in the Marshall Islands, that Naval facilities for US forces may be underwater and not in a good way. It means that the likelihood of increased conflict in places like Yemen and other areas of resource scarcity may once again create more fertile grounds for the growth of terrorism and put our national security at risk in those ways.
So there are deep impacts of climate change on our national security, and I invited three witnesses from the intelligence community to testify in open session about this. Well one of them arrived without any written testimony, which is unusual and a bit of a red flag. And we would learn within a couple days of the hearing that their written testimony was essentially withheld at the instructions of the political appointees on the National Security Council or in the White House, because they did not want the administration to acknowledge in writing the national security dangers of climate change.
And so one of the things that we depend on the intelligence community to do is speak truth to power. To come to Congress and tell us the straight scoop whether I want to hear it or Devon Nunes wants to hear it or nobody wants to hear it. Whether Donald Trump wants to hear it or he doesn't want to hear it. And so we are closely watching any effort to interfere with the independence of these professionals.
Now I have to think that the president's attack on this whistleblower who is either an employee, detailee, or contractor working within the IC, is having a real chilling effect on the professionals within the IC. To see what's happened and the dangers now that are faced by this person who stepped forward.
And I do not yet know the impact that will have-- is having on the morale of people working within the IC. I think they weathered the president's earlier attacks on the intelligence community as well as could be expected, but now with these additional attacks, I think agencies can only take so much.
The morale at the State Department is devastated. I mean, it's been devastated for a long time. The morale at other agencies are also devastated when you have agency heads appointed hostile to the very mission of the agency. So Perry at the head of energy and a former coal lobbyist to head the EPA, the list goes on and on of efforts to attack the very agencies from within by the appointment of people at the top who are hostile to the mission of agencies. That has not happened within the IC, and we are obviously going to do our best to make sure that doesn't happen.
STEVE ISRAEL: All right, we have about five minutes left. We're going to a lightning round. So I'm going to take one question here and then one question over here, and Adam will answer both questions. Yes, sir? In the-- what appears to be a yellow shirt from here? No, I'm sorry-- yes. OK. Actually, it was for the-- yes.
And then ask your question, and then let's see, I'm going to take you right over here, and then we'll wrap it up. So your question is?
AUDIENCE: Lindsey Graham has threatened to expose the whistleblower if you impeach Donald Trump. What can be done to protect the whistleblower and how will this not devastate the whistleblowers in general and prevent-- why should they trust the American government to protect them any more than we have protected the Kurds?
STEVE ISRAEL: All right. And is it OK if we take the second one to expedite? Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: You started this talk by saying that the greatest threat that we're currently facing to liberal democracy is foreign states and foreign actors propping up governments that are loyal to them, but you sit on the House Intelligence Committee, and the American intelligence community has very infamously spent almost its entire history propping up governments that are loyal to American corporate interests. What do you think that we are doing right now to rectify that and are we reaping what we sowed in the 20th century?
ADAM SCHIFF: Yeah. Thank you. Under the whistleblower statute, the whistleblower has the right to choose to be anonymous. And the Inspector General has informed us that the whistleblower is exercising that right, and who can blame the whistleblower given the threats coming out of the White House and from other quarters?
And so the effort to out the whistleblower by anyone is not only a grave danger to that whistleblower, but it's a grave danger to anyone who would avail themselves of that statutory protection. And that ought to matter to members of both parties. Right now this is a whistleblower who blew the whistle on Donald Trump, next time the whistle blower may be blowing the whistle on a Democratic president.
In the intelligence world-- and this gets a bit to the second question-- people that have seen either wrongdoing or things they perceived this as being wrong who felt that there was no mechanism to report it and get it paid attention to have decided to go public. And when you allow individual people within the intelligence community to decide for themselves when to reveal classified information, you risk them revealing information that can do grave damage to the country, that is not in fact evidence of wrongdoing.
And so having a legal channel for whistleblowers to take where they don't have to take the law into their own hands is vitally important. And so I think Senator Grassley has recognized the importance of the whistleblower process, and that people shouldn't be attacking the whistleblower. The Senate Intel Committee on a bipartisan basis has recognized it was fully appropriate for the whistleblower to come to Congress and be referred to the Inspector General.
And so there are voices, bipartisan voices defending this whistleblower, as they should, and defending the process as they should. Those that are attacking the whistleblower, seeking to out the whistleblower I need to think long and hard about the damage they're going to do and the misconduct in the future that will go unreported if they cripple this system.
In terms of the Intel agencies and the history of their use, whether it was in Central America or South America or in Iran or elsewhere, there is a very checkered past of how US intelligence has been used. And so I would be the first to acknowledge that the United States and our Intel community doesn't have a perfect record, but I would push back against the idea of the-- and this is not how you were asking the question at all, but the efforts sometimes to engage in whataboutism.
That is, are we really in a position to complain about foreign meddling in our democracy because of conduct that the intelligence community engaged in prior decades? And I would say that it is not the business of the US government to be interfering in the democratic affairs of other countries either covertly or overtly, and we should vigorously push back on any other countries that try to do so in our affairs.
And I say that mindfulness of the fact that as in many-- so many other respects throughout history, America has not always lived up to its ideals, but there is no narrative that the President of Russia would like more than the one that the president has been advancing, and that is when the President of the United States was asked, I think, by Sean Hannity of all people, why is it you can't criticize Vladimir Putin? The man's a killer. And the president's answer was, are we so different?
And indeed you see that argument made by the president all the time. When there are issues of malfeasance by other nations, the President of the United States saying, are we so different? And I think that is just uniquely damaging to the very idea of America.
STEVE ISRAEL: Ladies and gentlemen, for information on our future programs, you can go to www.iopga.cornell.edu. www.iopga.cornell.edu. I want to thank Professor Kriner and Alex and Geneva for their participation. Wendy Wolford, deputy provost, vice provost; Rory and Thomas, our ambassadors; and a big head for Congressman, Chairman Adam Schiff.
ADAM SCHIFF: Can I-- Steve, can I just-- thank you. I just-- I just want to say one last thing before we part company. Because this is something that I worry about, I worry about when I come onto college campuses, I worry about more generally in terms of the country's future, and that is, we're going through such an ugly and divisive period right now. We cannot afford for people to say, I'm just going to tune it out, I'm not going to engage, it's just too much, or decide, I'm not going to pursue a career in the foreign service or in government service of any kind because who wants anything to do with that?
We are desperately in need of good people running for office, engaging in the political process. This is a time when the country needs each and every American. Where I think the fate of our democracy is at stake, where all of us have to ask, what can we do in our private capacity, our public capacity, our civic life, our corporate life, what can we do now at a time when the country really needs us?
And the good news is there is an infinite number of ways that you can be involved and you can make a difference right now, and you need to be. And I have every confidence that you will bring the change that is so desperately needed. And I have that confidence because young people aren't going to put up with this bigotry, they're not going to put up with this senseless gun violence, they're not going to put up with us destroying this planet. You are in a position already to be decisive on all of these things. You are the largest growing demographic of voters, potential voters. You can be running this country, you can be deciding which way this country goes if you engage.
So the best antidote to being demoralized about what's going on is engagement, it's involvement. And so be involved. Don't be discouraged, be involved. The country desperately needs you, and our future is in your hands. Thank you.
STEVE ISRAEL: Don't agonize, mobilize!
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Around the globe and from within, the nation now faces the most vigorous challenge to the idea of liberal democracy since World War II, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff said during an Oct. 10, 2019 visit to Cornell. Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff spoke at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts’ Kiplinger Theater as part of the “Inside Congress” series sponsored by Cornell’s Institute of Politics and Global Affairs.