Top Intel Democrat Downplays Expectations of Evidence in Russian Collusion Investigation

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA).
AP/Cliff Owen

The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee and a lead proponent of the Russian collusion narrative downplayed expectations there will be any smoking gun evidence showing collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, after months have passed and millions spent in investigations.

Back in March, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), in defending the need for investigations, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that there was “circumstantial evidence” of collusion, and that the American people had a right to know whether the circumstantial evidence of collusion is “indicative of more.”

But on Sunday, Schiff backed away from the need for any actual evidence of collusion, and argued that what he considered circumstantial evidence was good enough. Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether there was any actual evidence of collusion, he said, “Well, you know, I think you have to look at the pattern and the chronology.”

Circumstantial evidence is also known as “indirect” evidence that relies on a “series of facts” other than the one that needs to be proven, rather than “direct” evidence that actually based on the existence of a particular fact — in this case, anything showing that the Trump campaign actually colluded with Russia.

Schiff argued that separate interactions over months by different members of the Trump campaign amounted to collusion.

Schiff said that in late April 2016, the Russians approached the Trump campaign saying they had emails of Hillary Clinton, in an apparent reference to volunteer campaign adviser George Papadopoulos’ contact with a Russian professor he had met in London the month before, who later told him that the Russians had emails of Clinton.

Schiff said “only weeks later” in June, the Russians made another approach to the campaign “at the highest levels,” offering dirt on Clinton, in apparent reference to the June 9 Trump Tower meeting set up by publicist Rob Goldstone between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, where the publicist said she would have dirt on Clinton.

Schiff said at this point the campaign was “already on notice” that the Russians had e-mails. Even though there was no follow up from Trump Jr., Schiff said his disappointment with that meeting was essentially a message to the Russians.

“You then have the message going back from the campaign to the Russians, basically, we would love to have your help, we would love to play ball, but we are really disappointed in what you gave us,” Schiff said.

He argued that that was enough for the Russians to begin publishing e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman through various cut-outs.

“You then have Trump Jr. in private, secret communication with WikiLeaks,” Schiff said, referring to a Twitter direct message exchange where Trump Jr. sent a total of three responses.

“So, we have all these facts in chronology. You would have to be believe that these were all isolated incidents, not connected to each other. It just doesn’t make rational sense,” he said.

He said Mueller’s “question to answer” would be to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the Russians communicated to the campaign that they were going to deliver help that they offered “and that the campaign accepted” by publishing the stolen emails instead of by handing them over.

“That will be up to Mueller, and we continue to try to fill in all of the missing pieces. But we do know this. The Russians offered help. The campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help. And the president made full use of that help,” he said. “And that’s pretty damming, whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.”

Yet, when Schiff was asked if there was any instance where the Russians actually ever communicated to the Trump campaign that this was the plan, he demurred.

“I can’t comment. That’s an issue that we have been investigating. And I don’t want to comment at this point or not what the state of that evidence is,” Schiff said.

“[Schiff] is trying to downplay expectations that he himself arose that at the end of the investigation he’ll present some smoking gun collusion evidence that hasn’t been made public yet,” said a congressional source close to the Russian investigations.

“Instead, he’s indicating his strategy will be to argue that what’s already public, when you tie it all together, is evidence of collusion,” the source said.