There’s already sufficient evidence to support an indictment of President Trump even before the conclusion of the special counsel investigation, California Rep. Adam Schiff said Tuesday.
The chairman of the House intelligence committee pointed to the case of Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, in which the government described how “Individual 1” directed and coordinated a campaign fraud scheme.
“Individual 1” is Trump, and Cohen is set to begin a three-year prison sentence in part because of those crimes.
“It’s very difficult to make the argument that the person who was directed and was coordinated should go to jail but the person who did the directing and did the coordinating should not,” Schiff told reporters at a breakfast on Tuesday organized by the Christian Science Monitor.
The evidence therefore already in place argues “very strongly in favor of indicting the president when he is out of office,” he said.
Trump says he never directed Cohen to violate the law and that the actions in Cohen’s case don’t even amount to wrongdoing.
Trump and the White House also argue that Cohen’s track record of lying means he can’t be believed — that he’ll say anything to save his image and try to get a lighter punishment for other crimes he’s admitted to.
Current Justice Department guidelines prohibit indicting a sitting president. But Schiff believes that the department should reconsider this position, or indict Trump if he loses re-election in 2020.
“The Justice Department policy against indictment is the wrong policy, particularly when there is any risk that the statute of limitations may allow a president to escape justice,” the chairman said.
Schiff stopped short of saying he thought Congress should impeach Trump and remove him from office in order to prosecute what he called these offenses.
The chairman echoed the position of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from her interview on Monday and said that without buy-in from congressional Republicans — who control the Senate — embarking upon the process today would be “doomed for failure.”
“I see little to be gained by putting the country through that kind of wrenching experience as I’ve often remarked in the past,” he told reporters. “The only thing worse than putting the country through the trauma of an impeachment is putting the country through the trauma of a failed impeachment.”
Democrats have been careful not to close the door entirely, however. Pelosi and others argue that Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller or other investigators could uncover evidence of wrongdoing by Trump so egregious that it may compel a bipartisan case for impeachment.
As for the House intelligence committee investigation that he is leading, Schiff said he will seek new documents relating to an alleged conversation between Trump and his longtime confidant Roger Stone.
“We are going to be looking at any documentary evidence,” he said, when asked by NPR whether he would be seeking phone records that could back up Cohen’s allegation that Trump had a speakerphone conversation with Stone about a coming WikiLeaks dump that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign.
“That could take a number of forms, from phone records, to social media records, to other documentary evidence.”
Schiff has placed great store in the past on the revelations that he said could be gleaned from phone records in the Russia investigation. He vowed to obtain phone records of Donald Trump Jr. because Democrats suspected they might entangle the elder Trump, but that did not prove to be so.
Ultimately, the length of Schiff’s investigation could depend on the Mueller investigation, and whether the Justice Department releases the underlying evidence that the Mueller team has gathered.
“If the Justice Department either attempts to conceal the Mueller report or the underlying evidence, then requiring Mueller to testify may very well be necessary,” Schiff said. “A lot will be impacted … by the degree to which the Justice Department makes us investigate everything Bob Mueller did all over again … that will have the most direct impact on the length of our investigation.”