The following is a transcript of an interview with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California that aired Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Joining me now is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. It’s Congressman Adam Schiff, who also serves on that select committee investigating the January 6 attack. It’s good to have you here in person.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. Great to be with you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Chairman Schiff, Vladimir Putin said on Friday that it was the FSB Russian intelligence and the CIA that had contact to negotiate this prisoner swap of Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout. The arms dealer. What did you think of this trade? And why did Vladimir Putin want Bout so badly?
REP. SCHIFF: Well, I’m thrilled that Brittney Griner is home. I think whenever an American hostage is released it’s cause for celebration. But it’s hard to other Americans. Paul Whelan and Mark Fogel remain held in Russia. And whenever you trade an innocent American for a guilty Russian, it’s an incentive to other despots to essentially grab an American and use them as a bargaining chip. So it’s- it’s hard. And I’m so impressed with the- both the Whelan and Fogel families for their gratitude that one American is free. But we need to continue working. I know the Biden Administration is, to release these others. In terms of Putin, he gets an arms dealer back, he also knows that he can just roil the American body politic by picking one to send back to the United States and leaving others in custody in Russia. He knows just what that will stir in the United States of America. So this is calculated on his part. But look, you know, for Russian citizens watching this, I don’t think they’re particularly thrilled to get an arms dealer back and what they’re most concerned about right now is they’re being used for cannon fodder in Ukraine. So, this is a- an effort to just roil America. And that’s–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well that’s what he’s doing.
REP. SCHIFF:–and that’s exactly what he gets out of that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It certainly- it certainly picked up a lot of political blowback, but Vladimir Putin also did say more swaps are possible, which, of course, raises hope for Paul Whelan. But as you just said, you believe this trade does incentivize hostage-taking. It puts a higher price on the head of your average American, and certainly an American celebrity, as Brittney Griner was.
REP. SCHIFF: I think all Americans have to realize that whenever they go to a place like Russia, or Iran or North Korea, that they stand the chance of being grabbed for no reason at all, except to be used as a- as a political chip. And it ought to make all of us think long and hard before going to these places. These are despotic regimes that have no- no view of the sanctity of human life or human rights, and they will do whatever they need to do, and the Biden Administration is moving forward to try to sanction those that are involved in this kind of hostage taking. But that only goes so far in the best of circumstances.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Blinken said he was working with about 60 Different countries to try to form some sort of Alliance here. But every time you get a prisoner swap, it sort of works against that.
REP. SCHIFF: It does. I mean, this is why they’re hard. And you know, I think for some of my colleagues in Congress, it’s easy for us in the cheap seats to say, I would have gotten a better deal, I would have gotten them all out. But unless you’re sitting where President Biden is, and you know exactly, you know, what the state of the negotiations are, you really can’t- you can’t claim that this wasn’t appropriate. That’s the responsibility that comes when you occupy the Oval Office.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We also heard from Vladimir Putin, that he said it was President Biden’s idea for the head of the intelligence service to meet with CIA Director Bill Burns as they did a few weeks ago. Do you think that contact should continue at that level? And what is it that you think the intelligence community needs to be most focused on as we heard Putin again, twice in the past week saber rattle when it comes to nuclear program,
REP. SCHIFF: I think there are circumstances in which it is valuable to have our head of intel meet with their head of intel, even when the Russians are at war in Ukraine, and we are strongly back in Ukraine. There’s a long history of this- of these kind of private communications to keep the lines open, to make sure that we don’t get into a direct shooting war with Russia, that we don’t get into some kind of a nuclear confrontation. We are lucky to have Bill Burns, who is a career diplomat who happens to be the head of the CIA, now engage in those kinds of discussions. So, I do think that can be very valuable.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think the risk of direct conflict is growing?
REP. SCHIFF: I think it is growing. I think it is manageable, and I think the administration has done a remarkable job in managing that and not letting it get out of hand. But you see, Putin continued to rattle the nuclear saber which is extremely dangerous. It- it can’t deter us though, from giving our full and complete support to Ukraine. They are fighting valiantly and democracy itself, I think is the- the cost of the struggle.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about democracy here at home. As we mentioned, you are on that January 6 committee and I understand you have a meeting today. Chairman Thompson had said at 1pm, there’s going to be a sort of report passed from one group to the main committee about criminal referrals. Reportedly on that list, former President Trump, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman. Is there a consensus on whether to send a referral for criminal prosecution to the Justice Department, and would doing that be anything more than symbolic?
REP. SCHIFF: You know, I think we are in common agreement about what our approach should be. I’m not ready or authorized at this point to tell you what that is. We are as a subcommittee, several of us that were charged with making the recommendation about referrals, going to be making that recommendation to full committee today. We will be releasing a report, I think around the 21st, that will include whatever decision we’ve made on referrals. What I can tell you about the process is we’re looking at what is the quantum of evidence that we have against individuals? What is the impact of making a referral? Are we going to create some suggestion by referring some, that others there wasn’t sufficient evidence, when we don’t know, for example, what evidence is in the position of the Justice Department? So, if we do make referrals, we want to be very careful about how we do them. But I think we’re all certainly in agreement that there is evidence of criminality here and we want to make sure that the Justice Department is aware of that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But don’t we already know that? I mean, there is the Justice Department investigation, special counsel looking into the former president. We know the DOJ has been looking into Mark Meadows and Rudy Giuliani. So what does the committee sending a referral do other than look political?
REP. SCHIFF: Well, look, we have been far out ahead in most respects of the Justice Department and conducting our investigation. I think they have made use of the evidence that we have presented in open hearings. I think they’ll make use of the evidence that we prefer to present in our report to further their investigations. And I think it makes an important statement, not a political one, but a statement about the evidence of an attack on the institutions of our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, that Congress examining an attack on itself is willing to report criminality. So I think it’s an important decision in its own right if we go forward with it and one that the department not to give due consideration to
MARGARET BRENNAN: Chairman Schiff, thank you for your time today.
REP. SCHIFF: Thank you.