Schiff: Trump, Russia, GOP leaders threaten democracy

Laurie Kellman
Associated Press

Washington — The top Democrat on the House committee probing Russian election meddling said Tuesday that America’s “democracy is under threat” from Russia — and also from President Donald Trump.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, said Trump is trying to undermine the investigations and the nation’s news media.

“I do feel our democracy is under threat,” Schiff said in an Associated Press interview.

He said Russia poses an external threat, but “in many respects, the challenge from within is more serious because we have a president who takes issue with the First Amendment and a president who describes the press as an enemy of the people.”

Schiff also criticized Republican congressional leaders for not challenging Trump on that and other issues. He said Trump’s criticism of judges who rule against him as not legitimate, and his efforts to limit Muslim immigration also threaten democracy. And he said Trump is trying to “disparage” the credibility of the FBI and congressional probes into Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and whether his own 2016 campaign was involved.

“So no matter what is produced, he can say it’s a fake,” Schiff said.

His remarks come as Trump travels through Asia on a weighty economic and national security mission. Trump has insisted special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has nothing to do with him and little to do with his campaign.

But even as Trump jets across the world stage, the investigations are churning back in Washington. A former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign has acknowledged in testimony to Congress that he had contact with a high-level Russian official while on a trip to Russia last year, according to a transcript released Monday.

Carter Page, an unpaid adviser who left the campaign before Trump was elected, told the House intelligence committee last week that he “briefly said hello to” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich when he traveled to Russia for a speech. Under repeated questions about the contact — which he had at times denied in the past — Page said that he had spoken to Dvorkovich after his July 2016 speech at Moscow’s New Economic School.

Schiff and other Democrats on the panel are skeptical of Page’s description that the conversation was mostly pleasantries. Schiff produced a campaign email during the questioning in which Page had written that Dvorkovich had told him “in a private conversation” that he had expressed support for Trump and the desire to work together. Page responded that the conversation had been less than 10 seconds long.

Page has offered contradictory accounts about whom he met there — at one point telling The Associated Press that he hadn’t met with Dvorkovich. But his testimony last Thursday was under oath.

Schiff pinned some blame for what he sees as a threat to democracy on House and Senate leaders for not challenging Trump at key moments.

“I think we’re all going to be held to account one day for what we did when our democracy is under threat,” Schiff said.