None Of Our Questions Went Unanswered, Chairman Schiff Says
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Cohen came to Capitol Hill with baggage yesterday, and I mean suitcases presumably filled with documents. President Trump's former lawyer was there testifying, once again, before Congress. Cohen is preparing to go to prison for, among other crimes, lying to Congress about the timing of Trump's real estate deal in Moscow.
Adam Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was there yesterday for this behind-closed-doors session with Michael Cohen and joins me this morning. Good morning, Congressman.
ADAM SCHIFF: Good morning. Great to be with you.
GREENE: Well, it's good to have you. So the big question - what did Cohen bring you? What was in the suitcase he was dragging?
SCHIFF: (Laughter) You know, I can't, as you know, go into his testimony. But I can say, after two full days with Mr. Cohen, that none of our questions went unanswered. Both Democrats and Republicans had a lot of questions for him. He answered all of them. He provided additional documents we didn't have before, and he may have yet further documents that he's going to review and provide to the committee. So...
GREENE: Oh, there might be more coming then?
SCHIFF: ...It was a very productive two days.
GREENE: Well, there are reports out there that he brought you documents showing, perhaps, that the White House edited his testimony to Congress about the timing of this real estate project in Moscow. Can you tell me if that was included in what he gave you?
SCHIFF: I - you know, I cannot tell you. You know, certainly, in his open testimony before the oversight committee, he was asked about whether anyone played a role in the creation of the false statement that he had made in his original testimony to our committee and whether he had any documentary evidence of that. But I can't comment on what he's provided to our committee.
GREENE: We should say Cohen is the one who has admitted to lying to Congress, I mean, to lawmakers, to you. Why do you believe him now?
SCHIFF: Well, this is the thing - and I, you know, as a former prosecutor, I can tell you that you often have witnesses that have committed crimes in the past or have lied in the past. You always seek corroboration. You don't simply rely on that witness turning a corner.
Now, it appears that Mr. Cohen has decided to fully cooperate now. And that's not only our conclusion but the office of the special counsel and its pleadings with the court said that his testimony was complete and that he was effectively shedding light on core areas of their investigation. And I think the same is true with ours. But you don't simply rely on a witness, no matter what their background. You try to find corroboration. I think it's particularly important here.
GREENE: You keep - you and other Democrats, you know, have floated the idea of President Trump somehow obstructing justice and other things that - that interest you. You keep saying, you know, Cohen might come back. You might get more evidence, more documents.
Is - would you blame some Americans for wondering how long this is going to go on? Is there ever going to be a time where you feel like you actually have the goods to suggest something with confidence?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, it's not just floating the idea that the president is obstructing justice. We can see it every day and quite out in the open. And the fact that it's done in the open doesn't make it any better.
GREENE: What do you mean out in the open? What are you talking about?
SCHIFF: Well, when the president - in speeches, in tweets and in other ways - tells the public that Paul Manafort is a hero because he refuses to cooperate and that Michael Cohen is a rat because he is cooperating - you know, Michael Cohen, his own personal lawyer for a decade, someone that he extolled the merits of for a long time until he decided to turn state's evidence - when you have, reportedly - and this was last year - people like John Dowd, a lawyer for the president that, reportedly, dangling pardons. When you have...
GREENE: But is any of that illegal? Is making statements to the press illegal?
SCHIFF: It is all evidence of obstruction of justice. If the president is interfering in an investigation that may implicate him - either through the firing of James Comey or through witness intimidation or through dangling a pardons - yes, that may very well be criminal.
Now, the decision about whether it's criminal is not for Congress to make. That's for the special counsel to make. And the president has just picked an attorney general who applied for the job by saying he didn't think that certain theories of obstruction of justice were viable. So it's clear, you know, that he's making every effort to insulate himself, but that doesn't make his conduct any more appropriate, ethical or legal. It...
GREENE: But the legality is something that would be determined later. I'd - before I let you go, I want to ask you about a new bill you have - are proposing today. It says the president - if the president or a family member is the target of an investigation, the president cannot pardon people involved in the investigation.
I mean, presumably, this is not something a Republican-controlled Senate would ever bring up. So how should people see this as anything other than taking a political shot at the president as these investigations are still ongoing?
SCHIFF: Well, the bill doesn't actually prohibit a pardon, but it does deter one by saying that, if the president pardoned someone - any president - pardoned someone in a case in which they're a witness, a target or a subject, that the investigative files will be turned over to Congress. And that's, I hope, a powerful deterrent. We already have 28 co-sponsors in the House. I'll be working with Chairman Nadler on this and other ways to deter abuse of the pardons.
And I would hope, like legislation to protect Bob Mueller, that we can somehow find bipartisan support. Indeed, we have some bipartisan support to overturn the president's usurpation of Congress's power of the purse. So there is hope. But I think that the actions of the president are the most powerful call to action for members of both parties.
GREENE: California Democrat Adam Schiff is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks as always. I appreciate it.
SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you.
GREENE: Want to turn to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson who's been listening in. Hi there, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, David.
GREENE: So what do Adam Schiff and other House Democrats gain from having their own investigations go on and on as the special counsel probe goes on and on? And are there political risk in over-investigating here?
LIASSON: Well, there are things that they can gain, and there are a lot of political risks. First of all, what they're looking at is not exactly the same thing as what Mueller's looking at. He's looking to see if any crimes were committed, including obstruction of justice, even if he won't indict the president because the Department of Justice says you can't indict a sitting president.
The House committees are looking at other things. They're looking at abuse of power. And as far as obstruction of justice is concerned, if they decide there's enough evidence that he did that, they could impeach him, which is what an indictment is in the House of Representatives. Now, that gets you to the perils of this because there's a big risk that they could overreach, that the public could see - could decide that the House is going into areas that are inappropriate, that they're doing something that's partisan. So there's a lot of perils for them. But I think right now what they're trying to do is, bit by bit, lay out a case against the president piece by piece and try to hold off on the decision about whether or not to impeach as long as possible.
GREENE: Are Republicans nervous seeing Cohen walk into a hearing room with lots of suitcases?
LIASSON: I think Republicans that I've talked to are nervous about a couple of different things. They're nervous about the underlying facts not helping the president. They're nervous that the White House response seems to be just to attack the investigators but not to defend the president substantively. And they're also worried about the White House being distracted from a legislative agenda and just getting consumed by responding to all of these requests for information.
GREENE: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.