WASHINGTON – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff defended holding testimony behind closed doors in the impeachment inquiry he’s heading up against President Donald Trump, likening this phase of the investigation to a “grand jury.”
“We want to make sure that we meet the needs of the investigation and not give the president or his legal minions the opportunity to tailor their testimony and in some cases fabricate testimony to suit their interests,” the California Democrat said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Schiff said they may call some or all of the witnesses to return to testify in public later, though that might not include the whistle-blower who triggered the impeachment fight in the first place.
While Trump and some of his Republican allies have hoped to unmask the official and question him or her, Schiff said his priority now is to protect the whistleblower and said they don’t need the person’s testimony to find out what happened on the phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“We’re keeping our focus right now on the president’s coercion of an ally, that is Ukraine, to create these sham investigations into his political opponent,” Schiff said.
Schiff said investigators have already seen strong evidence that Trump abused his office by conditioning a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump on Ukraine “digging up dirt on the Bidens.”
“That is a terrible abuse of the president’s power,” Schiff said.
“Here we have a president of the United States abusing his power to the detriment of our national security and doing so to get yet another foreign country to intervene in our election. It’s hard to imagine more of a corruption of his office than that.”
Schiff also said the committee continues to investigate whether the president decided to hold up military aid to Ukraine as leverage, saying there’s already strong indications that is true “and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, ripped the closed sessions. “Democrats know they can’t win on the facts, so they’re having to move it behind closed doors,” he said on Fox News. “I believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that while he expects the Democratic-controlled House will vote to impeach Trump, he’s “nervous” that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “will put party in front of country” and not hold a full trial.
McConnell has said the Senate will have to take up the impeachment, but it’s not clear how long the proceedings would last.
Schiff also tried to clear up his earlier statements that his committee hadn’t heard from the whistleblower.
“I was referring to the fact that when the whistleblower filed the complaint, we had not heard from the whistleblower,” Schiff said. “We wanted to bring the whistle-blower in at that time, but I should have been much more clear about that.”
Separately, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended the president.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Mnuchin wouldn’t comment on whether Trump’s public request to China to investigate the Bidens earlier this month was serious or not, but said it had not come up in the context of trade talks with Beijing.
“And in the Oval Office, when the president was asked about this in front of the vice premier, the president made very clear, they can do what they want,” Mnuchin said. “So, again, people who are trying to imply that the president is asking for things or quid pro quos, I think this is ridiculous.”