House Intelligence Chair Finds No Evidence Trump Tower Was Wiretapped

Mar 15, 2017
Originally published on March 15, 2017 5:30 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For more, we turn now to Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Welcome to the program.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

SIEGEL: And today, as we heard from both you and your Republican counterpart chairman Devin Nunes, you've seen no evidence of the president's claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped. Chairman Nunes did talk about other surveillance activities apart from wiretapping. What evidence have you seen in that square?

SCHIFF: Well, I'm limited in what I can say on this. Certainly there has been a lot of public discussion about the conversations between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador. I can't go into how those conversations may or may not have been recorded. But I think that's part of what the chairman might be referring to. We're quite in agreement that there's no factual basis at all for the president's claims.

SIEGEL: Your committee had asked the Department of Justice to provide evidence to you by this past Monday. And they missed the deadline. The fact that somebody needed more time implies to those of us who don't know what's going on the inside that the answer may not be a simple no. Do you expect an answer that's more nuanced than no wiretapping or surveillance of Trump and his campaign?

SCHIFF: I don't expect a nuanced answer. I think the answer to the question that have been raised by the Trump tweets is an emphatic no. And I imagine that when the director of the FBI comes before us in the open hearing we have next Monday, I will be asking that question. I expect his answer will be that there is no evidence of it because it didn't happen.

SIEGEL: In that case, should we expect the committee to conclude it didn't happen? Or should we expect something to the effect of a conclusion sort of like there's no evidence that it happened?

SCHIFF: I think the conclusion you should expect is it didn't happen. There's no evidence of it. And to further chase, you know, this baseless claim would not be productive. The question will remain, why would the president do this? And that's a question the president will have to answer.

SIEGEL: You said today that there are, from a national security perspective, grave concerns if the president's going to state things like that without any basis. What are those national security concerns?

SCHIFF: The first is part of the Russian narrative about the United States is, OK, Russia's not a democracy? It's a corrupt kleptocracy. But, you know, the United States is no different. They're just hypocrites about it. Well, when the president makes the claim that his predecessor illegally wiretapped him, it plays right into Russian hands. When the president says in response to Bill O'Reilly that why can't he criticize Putin, Putin's is a killer, and his answer is, are we so different? That is exactly the story the Russians want to tell. It really undermines our standing in the rest of the world. It undermines the whole idea of liberal democracy.

But a second point is we will have a crisis at some point during this administration and not one of their own making. It will come from North Korea or Iran or Russia or China or somewhere. But nonetheless, he will have a crisis. And we are going to want to believe our president. We're going to need to believe our president. We're going to need our allies to believe our president. And if he continues making things up, how are people going to believe him when we really have to?

SIEGEL: You mentioned Gen. Michael Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador. When Flynn was an aide to Donald Trump, he was also representing a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman who's close to Turkey's president. And that businessman has been quoted as saying that the Justice Department urged Flynn to retroactively register as the agent of a foreign government, that he was effectively representing Turkish interests.

Would Flynn's activities about something that have nothing to do with Russia - but would those contacts be within the purview of this investigation as well?

SCHIFF: That could very well be within the purview of the investigation and certainly his conduct and contacts with the Russians is. But also, I'm concerned that in addition to that form he didn't fill out identifying himself as a agent of a foreign power, there are clearance forms, one called the SF86, where when you're getting your security clearance updated as he would have, you have to declare any kind of agency with a foreign power or contacts with a foreign power. And we need to find out whether he was truthful or concealed on that as well.

SIEGEL: I mean, are these questions that you've either bumped up against or think the committee should take a look at?

SCHIFF: Absolutely. No, I think we do need to take a look at it. And more than that, this is one of the reasons why I think we need an independent prosecutor rather than the attorney general or even his subordinate to be making that judgment.

SIEGEL: That's Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.