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Intelligence Officials Set To Testify Before Senate Panel


High-profile intelligence officials will testify in front of the Senate intelligence committee today. And so will the deputy attorney general, who's been overseeing the FBI investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election.


And, of course, all this is happening - it's just the opening act, really, because tomorrow, former FBI Director James Comey testifies about his own firing.

INSKEEP: Congressman Adam Schiff is the ranking member on the House intelligence committee, which has been conducting its own investigation of the same matters. He's on the line once again. Congressman, good morning.

ADAM SCHIFF: Good morning. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: So much information thrown out before these hearings begin by various newspaper reports. And this often happens before a hearing. People put things on the table so the witnesses can be asked about them. And one of them is this. According to The Washington Post, Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence - one of the witnesses today was telling associates that he was asked for help by President Trump in somehow redirecting the FBI investigation.

Does that sound credible to you?

SCHIFF: Well, sadly, it does sound credible. And Director Coats was asked about this earlier and declined to comment. He did say that he would discuss this with the investigative committees in the House and Senate. So we'll find out whether he's willing to say more today or will reserve that for closed session or will decide that he's not going to share.

But, yes, those are very serious allegations that not only did the president allegedly tell the director or ask Director Comey to stand down when it came to the investigation of Michael Flynn, but he may also have sought the support of Director Coats and Director Pompeo of the CIA to do the same thing, as well as to pushback against the narrative the White House didn't like in terms of the issue of whether the Trump campaign coordinated or colluded with the Russians.

INSKEEP: How much more serious is this matter becoming as you learn more, each drip? Is this more serious than it was a week ago to you, more serious than a month ago?

SCHIFF: It certainly is, you know, more serious really every day. And, here, the reason why it is more serious if these allegations prove to be correct is that it wasn't just a one-off comment by the president to Director Comey, that, in fact, the president may have engaged in a concerted effort to get many within the intelligence community to force a dropping of the Flynn investigation.

That would represent serious interference. And so when you put that cumulatively together and you add it to the firing of Comey and the president's own explanation for why he fired Comey, it begins to paint a pretty damning picture.

INSKEEP: Congressman, what are you learning from the NSA document, the National Security Agency document that was released and published by The Intercept just this week, which described last-minute Russian interference that appeared to be aimed at actual election voter registration systems, the election system in the United States? Does that tell you anything you didn't previously know?

SCHIFF: You know, I can't comment or confirm whether that's actually an NSA document or not. I can say that the intelligence community revealed even as early as January in its unclassified assessment that, in fact, the Russians had been hacking into state election or local election facilities - now, not in a way that changed the votes. There's still no evidence that that's the case.

But what it looked like to me at the time and what it continues to look like to me is that the Russians were, in a sense, preparing the battlefield that if they wanted to escalate, they were probing our election systems to find out just what they could accomplish.

And this ought to obviously alarm us in the sense that we need to make sure that our voting infrastructure, which is critical, is well protected. Nothing is truly immune from this kind of interference. But, you know, this ought to certainly cause all of the states, if they haven't already, to reach out to the Department of Homeland Security to make sure that they're using the best possible defenses.

MARTIN: Congressman, it's Rachel Martin. Before we let you go, I want to ask about the person who we believe to be connected with that leak of the NSA document to The Intercept, a woman named Reality Winner, who was a government contractor. This is something that the Trump administration talks a lot about, cracking down on leaks that it says jeopardizes national security.

So now there's an alleged example of this. What do you think should happen to the leaker?

SCHIFF: Well, I think that anyone responsible for leaking classified information is a very serious business, and they should be brought up on charges. These do betray very sensitive sources of information. Again, I can't confirm...


SCHIFF: ...That this is related to the NSA document. But if it is and it's a legitimate document and it...

MARTIN: You believe there should be consequences.

SCHIFF: ...Tells the Russians what our sources are, it could be very serious.

MARTIN: Adam Schiff, ranking member on the House intelligence committee. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

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

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