ASPEN, Colo. – The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee called President Trump the “gravest threat to American democracy” he’s ever seen after a Helsinki summit at which, he said, the president showed that he was “prepared to essentially betray the national security interests of the United States.”
“One of the terrible realizations of the last year and a half for me is that the damage that the Russians have done to our democracy by meddling in our election is nothing compared to the damage our own president is doing to our democracy by attacking the Justice Department and by denigrating our press,” Rep. Adam Schiff said in an interview with the Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery. “I think he is doing enormous damage to our national security beyond anything the Russians could do to us.”
The comments represented a significant ratcheting up of the attacks on President Trump and his Russian ties that Schiff has been regularly delivering on cable TV for the past year and a half. He spoke to Skullduggery at the Aspen Security Forum in the aftermath of a Helsinki summit in which Trump spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for two hours alone – with no other American officials in the room – and then, at a joint press conference, questioned the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russians had meddled in the U.S. election, in part because he said Putin had forcefully denied the meddling during the private session.
Although the White House has since walked back Trump’s press conference statements, Schiff said legitimate questions remain about whether the president has been compromised by the Russians.
“Look, that is certainly one very simple explanation for something that seems inexplicable to all of us. Why would the president undermine NATO? Why would the president undermine Europe? Why would the president do all these things? Why would the president deny the obvious — that the Russians intervened in our election?
“It could be that there is just some pathology at work with him, that he is so terrified that his election was illegitimate that he is responding in this way. So maybe there’s a pathology. But it’s also quite possible that the Russians have compromising material on him, that the Russians were laundering money through his businesses — and he knows that, and they know that… But in terms of the United States and our national security and our interests, what matters most is the president’s actions. And he is acting like someone compromised.”
But Schiff said his efforts to get answers to these questions have been repeatedly obstructed by his Republican colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, most recently this week when, he alleged, GOP staff instructed a witness not to show up for questioning about communications between the Trump campaign and a suspected Russian cutout.
The witness, John Mashburn, a former top Trump campaign aide, was slated to be questioned by the committee this week and then backed out at the last minute.
Schiff and committee Democrats wanted to grill Mashburn about reports that he had received an email during the campaign from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about being told by a Kremlin-linked professor that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton — an email that has never been produced.
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“Mashburn’s a key witness,” said Schiff. “There are public reports — I want to be very precise about this, there are public reports — Mashburn has said that he was informed by Papadopoulos [that the Russians had dirt on Clinton], he believes in an email that he received and he believes others on the campaign had received, informing him of the conversation Papadopoulos had with [Joseph] Mifsud [a Russia-linked professor] or others, in which it was related to Papadopoulos that the Russians had these stolen emails.
“Well, that’s a very good question that we would have liked to ask Mashburn, but the Republicans would not bring him in — when they were participating in the investigation — because they didn’t want to know. They didn’t want to know who in the Trump campaign was aware that the Russians possessed the Clinton emails long before it was public even that the hack had been accomplished. So, when Mashburn did agree to come in, and we informed the [Republican] majority that he was coming, they called him and said, ‘Don’t come in.’ And he decided not to come in.” He added: “Mashburn is not the only witness that has informed us that the majority has affirmatively worked to discourage them from sharing information with the committee. … Their goal is to protect the president at all costs.”
A spokesman for House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes declined to comment. But in a statement to CNN this week, Mashburn blamed Schiff and the Democrats for his nonappearance, accusing them of falsely claiming the interview would be bipartisan when they didn’t tell Republicans about the meeting until an hour before it was scheduled to occur.
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