AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right, now let's turn to California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, the committee that has been looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And Congressman Schiff joins me now on Skype. Welcome.
ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's great to be with you.
CHANG: So let me just begin by asking you - you've had a long career as a prosecutor. What strikes you the most about what is in these documents today?
SCHIFF: Really two things. In the Southern District of New York filing, it's the fact that the prosecutor's office accepts that Individual Number One (ph), the president of the United States, was engaged in criminal activity with Michael Cohen, that he was essentially conspiring with Michael Cohen to violate campaign laws, part of which they're recommending that Michael Cohen go to jail for. That's pretty breathtaking.
CHANG: Tease that out. How would you conclude that President Trump is being described as engaging in criminal activity?
SCHIFF: Well, they're describing what Michael Cohen did as criminal activity, basically buying these stories, these hush money payments stories, in order to affect the presidential campaign. And he is doing this in consultation, with - at the direction of Individual Number One. That reads like a conspiracy. That reads like these two, including the chairman of this publication, were all doing this together. So that very much brings this criminal conduct to the president's door.
The Justice Department will have to make a decision at some point. It may wait until after the president leaves office. But they'll have to make a decision. Do they treat Donald Trump differently than they treated Michael Cohen? If this is serious enough for Michael Cohen to go to jail, why isn't it serious enough to prosecute the man that was essentially orchestrating it with him?
CHANG: Well, let's take a step back for a moment. Do these documents tell us anything about who initiated contact with Russia? Was this something that the Trump campaign was initiating, or were the Russians cultivating the Trump campaign?
SCHIFF: Well, this is the significance of the second document. And the second document from the special counsel's office outlines at least four areas of cooperation that Michael Cohen has been giving them. Now, I don't think it answers the question that you posed, but it does tell us that the testimony he gave to Congress for one thing was very incomplete besides the false testimony about the Trump Tower deal ending in January when it went all the way through to the middle of the campaign...
CHANG: This is the Trump Tower deal in Moscow.
SCHIFF: Exactly. There were other things that Michael Cohen could have shared with Congress but did share with the special counsel that go to core investigative interests. And what are those core interests for the special counsel? Well, they deal with the issue of conspiracy with Russia. And the interesting thing to me about it is they bring in The Trump Organization. And that might bring in other members of the Trump family, or it might bring in the accountant of The Trump Organization. But apparently Michael Cohen has shared information the special counsel didn't already have about contacts with Russians, about a potential conspiracy with Russians. There is also the potential given that his cooperation extended into the presidency, that Michael Cohen had information relevant to obstruction of justice.
CHANG: With respect to the Trump Tower deal in Moscow, the president has argued that as he was campaigning for the presidency - so this is before he became president - he still needed to be able to run his business. So what's wrong with him talking about making deals before he was the GOP nominee, that portion of the facts?
SCHIFF: Well, what is so wrong about this is he was out there on the campaign trail advocating that we do away with sanctions on Russia at the same time that privately he was negotiating a deal that required essentially Putin's approval and indeed offering Putin apparently a penthouse at the top of that tower. So to have a major presidential party candidate, indeed at one point the presumptive nominee of the GOP, in secret dealings with the Kremlin while advocating relaxing sanctions on Russia - that just stinks to high heaven.
CHANG: Now, your party will be taking over the intelligence committee next month, the committee that had suspended the Russia investigation. Will you be restarting it when you're in the majority?
SCHIFF: We will be pursuing the investigation indeed. You know, for our part, we never suspended it. The majority, the GOP, walked away from it about six months ago, but we've continued to bring witnesses in. Now, we haven't had the power to subpoena them, which we will have. But there are a number of investigative threads we were not allowed to pursue, some very basic investigative steps we're not allowed to undertake that we will begin to do once we get the gavel.
CHANG: And tell me about these investigative threads you intend to pursue. I mean, in light of these comments that you're making that if Michael Cohen's facing possible prison time, potentially the president should is what you're suggesting today. So what are these investigative threads you'd like to tackle?
SCHIFF: Well, I'd certainly be interested in knowing what Michael Cohen has had to say about core investigative interests related to The Trump Organization. One concern I've had that had been repeated - and credible allegations that The Trump Organization was involved in laundering money for the Russians. If that's the case, then the Russians would have powerful leverage over the president of the United States. We were not allowed to pursue that, to determine whether it was true or not true. And I think that's a serious matter that needs to be looked into.
But there are other very basic steps about already-known incidents including not the Trump Tower in Moscow but the Trump Tower in New York in which they - the president's son and son-in-law and campaign manager had that meeting with a Russian delegation with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton.
One of the calls to set up that meeting sandwiched in between discussions Don Jr. was having with the Russians was a call from a blocked number. We'd like to know if that blocked call came from the president of the United States. And indeed, there's some speculation that Manafort may have been dishonest with the special counsel's office on this very point of whether the president had prior knowledge of that Trump Tower meeting.
CHANG: So who do you think you'll be calling as witnesses before your committee next year besides Michael Cohen? It sounds like you'll definitely be calling him back. Who else?
SCHIFF: Well, there are a number of witnesses. I don't want to itemize our witness list at this point. But like all the other committees, we're going to need to really prioritize. What are the most important investigative avenues that we need to undertake first? Who are the most support witnesses? There are some that we would like to bring back. But there are others that were, you know, obviously relevant to the investigation that the majority refused to bring in at all. So we'll have to prioritize them. And at this point, though, I'm not ready to make that public.
CHANG: OK, that's Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Thank you so much for joining us today.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.