IRVINE, Calif. (CN) — Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election to “tear down our democracy,” and that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded “that the Russians will do this again.”
Schiff said the Russians’ aim was not just to hurt Hillary Clinton or help Donald Trump, but to attack democracy itself. Next time, he said, the Russians might not just release authentic stolen emails, but phony emails or real ones doctored to include bogus references to illegal activities, which would be difficult to fight against or disprove.
Delivering a 30-minute speech to more than 700 Democratic activists, law students and locals at the UC Irvine campus, the nine-term Southern California congressman said Russian hacking cannot be completely prevented.
“The only real defense is to inoculate ourselves, to educate ourselves about just what the Russians have done, why they’re doing it … and somehow develop a consensus that regardless of which party it helps and which party it hurts, that we will reject it.”
Schiff has become a fixture on cable news shows as the most outspoken Democrat on any of the congressional committees investigating last year’s election and alleged ties between Russia and Trump associates.
The president recently blasted the investigations on Twitter as the “single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”
Schiff told his UC Irvine audience that it was obvious why Russia preferred Trump: As a candidate, the president criticized NATO, considered relaxing Ukraine sanctions and promised to work closely with Russia in Syria.
“If you were going to design a candidate better suited for Russian ends, it would be hard to describe such a candidate,” Schiff said.
But Russia’s broader reason for its election meddling was to attack our democracy, he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin might argue that our elections are rigged, that eavesdropping is rampant here and that “the fix is in.”
“The reality is there’s a new ideological struggle going on, and it is not communism versus capitalism anymore,” Schiff said. “It is autocracy and authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. This is the broader challenge that we are facing.”
Putin can be considered the autocratic movement’s leader, Schiff said, but other heads of state are involved, including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and an aspirant, France’s Marine Le Pen.
Yet the Trump administration appears to “to be setting aside our role as the champion of human rights and democracy,” he said.
“Our real agenda has to include the promotion of democracy and human rights. It’s who we are.”
Turning to the House Intelligence Committee’s work, he said the investigation is looking at many issues, including the extent of Russia’s hacking, disinformation, social media trolling and other efforts. The panel also will examine how the Obama administration and Congress responded to early intelligence reports on the interference.
In a question-and-answer session with UCI School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Schiff said he is also concerned about how the Trump presidency may be enhancing Trump businesses.
He said he was stunned that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort doubled its dues this year. And he doubted that Ivanka Trump would have been granted a number of trademarks by China recently if the president had not said he was reconsidering the “One China” policy.
“I really feel that what this president is doing is shaking the foundations of the country,” he told Chemerinsky.
“I think the lesson that I hope the public takes from this is that experience matters,” he added.
“We rolled the dice with the greatest democracy on Earth, and it turned out to be a terrible gamble,” Schiff said. “But we will get through this.”