Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. On Monday, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Russia's deputy foreign minister in Geneva. The talks came as roughly 100,000 Russian troops are stationed near the country's border with Ukraine. It's a threatening and growing military presence mirrored by diplomatic stalemate. Vladimir Putin specializes in aggressive posturing, and this most recent crisis is no different, dead-locking talks with demands described as non-starters including a demand that Ukraine must be prevented from ever joining NATO. Here's what Deputy Secretary Sherman had to say after Monday's discussions.
Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman: We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States, and we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.
Melissa Harris-Perry: These developments are only the latest chapter in this long Russian novel, a saga that included former president Donald Trump as a central character when, back in 2019, the Trump administration withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine that the nation planned to use to protect against further military aggression from Russia. It was a move that led to the first impeachment of President Trump.
Representative Adam Schiff: The questions presented by this impeachment inquiry are whether President Trump sought to exploit that allies vulnerability, and invite Ukraine's interference in our elections, whether President Trump sought to condition official acts such as a White House meeting or US military assistance on Ukraine's willingness to assist with two political investigations that would help his re-election campaign.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That was Representative Adam Schiff who led the 2019 impeachment investigation. Under President Biden, Representative Schiff has continued in his role as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, remained outspoken on the threat that Russia poses to Ukraine's independence, and joined the House committee that is investigating the causes of the January 6th Capitol insurrection. I spoke to Representative Schiff on Monday, and there was no shortage of topics for us to address. He began by telling me about when the January 6th committee might hold its next public hearings.
Representative Adam Schiff: I would expect that we would begin them I hope within a matter of weeks. Our first hearing which we had some months ago with the four police officers I think was enormously powerful and did exactly what you mentioned, which is it helped to puncture some of the efforts at revisionist history. Those that are trying to portray January 6th now as a normal tourist day, when they watched that hearing and they heard the vivid testimony of those police officers, they saw the video, they experienced, the degree to which they were being crushed in a door or gouged or beaten or pepper-sprayed, I think it really had a visceral impact on people who were watching.
We realized the importance of bringing the country along with us and showing them the progress that we're making and we're making a lot of progress. At the same time, one of the reasons that we have waited is we want to make sure that we don't, through public hearings, reveal information that would hamper our further investigation or inform witnesses what we know or don't know at a particular stage in the investigation. I think we're reaching at the point now where we have gathered sufficient information that we can begin to hold those public hearings without being too concerned about its impact on other witnesses.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Are you expecting former President Trump to testify under oath?
Adam: We haven't made a decision about that. Normally, in investigation, you would save the highest-profile, the most significant witnesses towards the end. You realize if you even get one crack at them, you'll only get one crack at them so you want to make sure that you're fully prepared and know all the questions you want to ask, and have all the facts at your disposal.
For that reason, I would think we'll make a decision on him towards the end of the investigation. The same time we're mindful that he successfully strung along Bob Mueller endlessly and ultimately such that he was able to thwart Mueller's ability to interview him. We're mindful of Trump's precedent for delay and obfuscation.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I really do want to dig in here just a bit because when you talk again about misleading information, when you talk about the need to, again, puncture this as we saw with the very powerful testimonies with the Capitol police, I'm wondering how you think about the issue of intelligence, particularly on the global stage for American decision-making in a time when there is so little trust and when things that appear to be uncontested facts nonetheless become contested and partisan in the public sphere.
Representative Adam Schiff: It's a really good question and it has so many dimensions to it. If you take, for example, what the administration has been discussing publicly, which is some of our intelligence on the Russian troop buildup in Ukraine. When the former president disparaged US intelligence agencies, it undermines our credibility. When we say, "Hey, this is what the Russians are doing, they're preparing an invasion of Ukraine," or when we say, "Hey, the Russians are interfering in our elections again," we need those agencies to have credibility. They do extraordinary work.
The last four years have put a cessation of the agencies, of disparagement by Donald Trump was really a body blow to our national security, so we depend on them. At the same time as policymakers, we need to know the limits of intelligence. We saw the limits of intelligence with the lead-up to the Iraq war. Part of that was intelligence and part of that was hyping the intelligence that we had, and so we see both the limits of good intelligence, but also the perils of high being intelligence or politicizing it. Used properly can be an enormously important tool for policymakers to give us the best insights possible into what's happening around the world.
In those rare occasions where the president of the United States needs to make use or Congress needs to make use of that intelligence publicly to make the case for something, then it's really important that the public had have confidence in it. That's very difficult when for years now the last administration was denigrating both the intelligence agencies and the FBI because it has really eroded trust in their abilities.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to go back. You name-checked what is happening between Russia and Ukraine at this time. How is the administration managing this and do you think that sanctions are enough to dissuade and punish Russia for its actions against Ukraine?
Representative Adam Schiff: I think the administration is doing all that it can. Whether we'll be successful, time will tell. Putin may very well invade regardless of what we do. Sanctions are one of the few tools that we have that are short of using military force and apart from diplomacy or integral to diplomacy, but they don't always succeed. Indeed sanctions have a pretty-- I think we have to be circumspective about their track record because much of the time they have not succeeded in meeting their objective, but they can help a diplomatic effort.
I think the pressure from sanctions was enough initially to bring Iran to the table to enter into the original nuclear deal. It's possible that sanctions now, if they're clear enough to Russia in advance, if they're substantial enough, if we have enough uniformity with our allies, maybe enough of a deterrent. The reality is we're not going to go to war with Russia, and so we have to use the tools that we can. Diplomacy and sanctions are among the tools that we have.
I am encouraged that there seems to be a growing level of support around the world for very punitive sanctions on Russia, and growing support in NATO to reposition NATO assets closer to Russia not further away if they invade signaling to Russia that they will not achieve their objective if their objective is to roll back NATO. I think it's also important that we telegraph that we are prepared to supply Ukraine with weapons to defend itself and to make it costly for Russia. That's the most I think we can do, but it may or may not be enough.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to pop back from the international and global and back to not only the domestic but the household, the kitchen table economics, and particularly the issue of student loans. The student loan moratorium is extended to May 1st. You have been very much on this issue I'm wondering where you stand now. Each time the moratorium is extended, social media will certainly take to task this idea that in fact, there is a capacity, perhaps a greater capacity to eliminate at least substantial portions of this debt.
Representative Adam Schiff: I think there is that capacity and I support forgiving a significant portion of that debt. These moratoriums are good, they're helpful for people who are still struggling because of the pandemic, but that debt is still there. That debt is just crushing for so many millions of students and former students. It limits their career choices. Many can't follow what they would really love to do because they won't be able to afford to pay their loans back. It just puts a real, I think, limit and damper on our young people's future.
Given the wealth that we have in this country, we don't need to saddle our young people with that burden. I favor aggressive action by the Congress. I certainly encourage the Biden administration to on its own through executive order do as much as it can to forgive student debt. We have to find a way to make that equitable, but I think it ought to be a really, really high priority.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You've talked in part, for example, if we go back to the January 6th commission about the need to do some things in private and also in public, right? This need to ultimately have the public hearings, but also sometimes to operate in ways that don't immediately bring in the public so efforts can move forward to move towards justice.
I'm wondering, in your time in the US Congress and as you look at our current political environment, if you think we've struck the right balance between that disinfected that is sunlight allowing the public to see what is going on, but also the need sometimes to be behind closed doors to make some of these deals, decisions, compromises, in order to protect from some of the highly partisan and highly charged opinions that can potentially keep members from maybe making the best policy choices.
Representative Adam Schiff: I think that we've struck the right balance in the investigations that I've been involved in. To give you an example of the Ukraine investigation, we did the interviews and depositions in closed sessions so that witnesses couldn't tailor their testimony to one another or figure out the limits of what we knew and then not tell us anything we didn't already know. Then immediately thereafter, we pivoted to public hearings which I think were very impactful and very important. That sequencing I think really worked in the Ukraine investigation. I think it is working properly in the January 6th investigation. The concern with going public too early is less one of it causing partisanship among the members.
In terms of the intel committee and our Russian investigation, Ukraine investigation, that partisanship was already there. It was less partisanship than frankly Republican members deciding to be defense lawyers for Donald Trump. That wasn't a partisan decision so much as, in my view, a cult around one-person decision. It's less though about that than it is about not compromising the investigation.
We had witnesses. For example, in the Ukraine investigation, you'll remember Gordon Sondland who came in behind closed doors and told us one thing because he didn't think we would know any better. Then further information came out and he realized that he was exposed to potential perjury. For witnesses to know that if they're not truthful and they testify that they could be prosecuted for perjury, and some of those in the Russian investigation were prosecuted for perjury, tends to get them more likely to tell the truth. That's more of a overriding consideration than it is whether doing things in an open session will prompt members to be partisan.
The last thing I'll say in this subject is ironically given the seriousness of the subject matter, the January 6th committee is probably the least partisan committee on the Hill. We have no concern about doing things in open session that will be fighting with each other or quarreling in a partisan way because our object is all the same, which is to bring out the truth and to legislate in a way that protects the country going forward, and so that's really not a concern for us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Congressman Adam Schiff of California, Thank you so much for joining us.
Representative Adam Schiff: Thank you. Great to be with you.
[00:14:04] [END OF AUDIO]
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