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Schiff On The Latest Developments In The Russia Probe


Now let's look at another part of the Trump-Russia story. Two years ago, Donald Trump Jr. met with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Before and after the meeting, he made phone calls to a blocked number. One big focus of congressional investigations has been who was on the other end of those calls. Was it his father, Donald Trump?

Now, multiple news outlets are reporting that Senate investigators have information that Trump Jr. was not talking with his father, but to family friends. The president's son told Congress that he didn't remember who he called.

Congressman Adam Schiff is the new chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He's a Democrat. And those phone calls have been one focus of his investigations. Congressman Schiff, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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

SHAPIRO: You and other Democrats have speculated that Donald Trump Jr. was speaking with his father before that meeting, which would've meant that the president had prior knowledge of the meeting. This information appears to refute that, and Trump's allies say it's exculpatory. Do you agree that it is exculpatory?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, we don't have the phone records yet because the Republicans in our committee would not allow us to subpoena them. They were, apparently, concerned with what they might show. So I can't say what the Senate may or may not have, but our responsibility is to find out what the facts are and, eventually, to make those facts public in a report, whichever way those facts cut.

Now, some of the people who observed father and son during the campaign most closely find it completely implausible that the son would not have informed his father about a meeting of that nature. Steve Bannon, for example, said there was zero chance that Donald Trump Jr. didn't tell his father about the meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower. But Bannon was of the view that that conversation took place in person, not on the phone. And Bannon may be right, or he may be wrong, but we ought to find out.

SHAPIRO: I hear you saying that the case does not rest entirely on the phone records. But also, you don't have the phone records. Do you think you'll be able to get them now that your Senate counterparts apparently do have them?

SCHIFF: Yes, without a question. And, you know, bear in mind, when we do get the phone records, even if the phone records show a conversation between father and son, they certainly would - we would expect the father and son would deny that that conversation was about the Trump Tower meeting. So even the phone records themselves would never be conclusive, but they're an important clue.

And the problem we've had up until now is that we were not allowed to follow the evidence where it would lead. And now we'll have that opportunity.

SHAPIRO: But let's assume for the moment that the reports of the phone records held by the Senate Intelligence Committee are accurate. And you say, well, then Donald Trump Jr. might've had a face-to-face conversation with his father. That doesn't seem like the kind of thing you could nail down - evidence that you would be able to uncover.

SCHIFF: Well, it all depends on whether there are third parties in that conversation. If you look, for example, at an analogous issue, the special counsel's indictment of Roger Stone and the allegation in that indictment that someone directed a senior campaign official to reach out to Roger Stone to find out about future WikiLeaks releases.

Now, the president has recently denied that he was the person giving that direction. Well, maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But you might ask, well, then who would know? Well, that senior official who was directed to do so would know. So often, there are third parties that can either corroborate or refute what the principals have to say.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that you and other Democrats hung too much on these blocked numbers, saying they may well have been Donald Trump Jr. calling his father? If it turns out that that wasn't the case, have you overplayed your hand?

SCHIFF: No. If you look at what we have been saying about the phone records, we have held up this particular example as a step that was a quintessential and very natural investigative step that any prudent investigator would take but that we were deprived of taking because the Republicans weren't interested in finding out the answer. That was really the purpose in illustrating this.

And, yes, should they show a conversation between father and son, then that would be suggestive evidence that they were discussing what was in the calls around that communication.

But really, the point of highlighting that we were not allowed to pursue the evidence was to illustrate what we will do if, at the time, we gained the majority and had a chance to pursue these records, as we now have the opportunity to do.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you for joining us today.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.