By Ryan Torok
In a conference call with the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) took President Donald Trump to task for invoking executive privilege to prevent the release of the unredacted Mueller report.
The Trump administration’s actions were “completely overbroad and baseless,” Schiff said. “Their goal is to stonewall. Their goal is to draw the process out while simultaneously blaming the Democrats.”
The May 9 conference call with approximately 50 JDCA leaders and supporters came on the heels of multiple U.S. House committees, including Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee, demanding access to the unredacted Mueller report and related documents and witnesses.
Schiff said he hoped the fight over the release of the unredacted report and other documents would not result in a drawn-out battle in court but “that may be where we end up.”
He added that the unprecedented confrontation between the executive and legislative branches would have significant implications for Congress’ oversight of future administrations.
“Here is what is at stake,” Schiff said. “It is not just whether the country gets the facts about what the Trump campaign did … it is about future presidents, too. To avoid oversight by making claims of privilege and litigating them, if they can succeed with that type of gambit, there is no way to hold this president or future presidents accountable.”
JDCA Board Chair Ron Klein also spoke about what he saw as the threat the Trump administration presents to democracy, the rule of law and the pursuit of justice.
“Today we’re in a critical point in our history when such values have been threatened by the president, and we believe it is incumbent upon Democratic leaders in Congress to conduct oversight of the executive branch and fully investigate the findings of the Mueller report,” he said.
JDCA Vice Chair Barbara Goldberg Goldman added, “In the aftermath of the Mueller report’s release, it has become crystal clear to all of us that Attorney General [William] Barr has failed in his duty to serve the American people. He is no longer the people’s chief law enforcement officer; instead, he appears to be the president’s personal defense attorney.”
Schiff also spoke about what he termed “deep fakes,” which he said was technology that allows people to create digital forgeries and spread false information.
“Nothing is more corrosive in a democracy than the idea that there is no truth,” he said. “There is potential for enormous mischief and a tech race between those creating the technology and those trying to create the technology to detect these fakes.”
JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer posed questions to Schiff that had been submitted in advance by attendees on the call, including one about whether there would be Russian meddling in the 2020 election and whether Trump would leave office quietly if he loses.
“I don’t think there is much risk that Donald Trump will call out the military and there will be tanks in the streets,” Schiff said, “but you could foresee how a large part of the country would feel disenfranchised if there was again Russian meddling that went unanswered by a president who may even welcome that help.”
In an interview with the Journal following the discussion, Soifer said she hoped the call with Schiff provided an opportunity to understand JDCA’s role in supporting officials who are driven by Jewish and democratic principles.
“The reason we are having a conversation like the one we had today,” she said, “is because we want to give voice to those values and ensure the Jewish community has the opportunity to engage with members of Congress like Chairman Schiff who are defending those values each day.”