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Brookings and Lawfare host Rep. Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee discusses the role of Congress in protecting liberal democracy Tuesday, March 21, 2017 in Washington with Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes. (Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks)
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VIDEO: Rep. Adam Schiff—Russian attack on U.S. democracy an ‘unprecedented act’

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke to an audience today at Brookings about how to protect liberal democracy at home and abroad in the face of rising nationalism, populism, and Russian-government directed threats against democratic systems and processes. “Despite the unanimous conclusion of the 17 entities that make up the U.S. intelligence community that the Russian government sought to sow discord in our political process and undermine the Clinton campaign,” he said, “there is a seeming hesitancy to dig too deeply into possible collusion between the Trump organization and the Russians and to ascribe too much to Moscow lest it call into question the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2016 election.”

In the event sponsored by Governance Studies at Brookings and Lawfare, Rep. Schiff spoke about the committee’s recent hearings on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—which featured testimony by FBI Director James Comey—as well as Russia’s attempts to disrupt politics and institutions across Europe. Watch:

“While Russia has always devoted intelligence resources toward countering what they refer to as ‘the main enemy’,” Rep. Schiff said, “it has had much greater success in mounting political operations in Europe, especially in eastern and Central Europe where there are populations of ethnic Russians with economic ties to Moscow.” Watch:

He added that “the anti-democratic tide has even threatened countries renowned for their tolerance, progressivism, and commitment to the democratic path,” including the Netherlands, where a far-right party failed to gain a majority in parliament but now holds the second highest number of seats.

Rep. Schiff pointed to upcoming national elections in France and Germany, where signs of Russian meddling have been apparent. He argued that the “international community of democracies” has “a duty to act in concert to protect the electoral process” in these and other countries where Russia and other actors “are working to subvert elections and distort internal dialogue.” Watch:

Unfortunately, he added, “the sense among allies and others is that our new president neither desires nor considers this a priority for the United States.”

Rep. Schiff outlined five specific policy actions Congress should take “to turn back the tide of illiberalism abroad and reassert our leadership of the international effort to enlarge the circle of freedom.” Watch:

“But this is a battle that also must be fought at home,” Rep. Schiff said, explaining how Americans’ falling trust in government and American institutions has made the U.S. political system “more vulnerable than we realized to an attack of this sort” and that “the Russian effort succeeded in its goal of undermining Hillary Clinton and the democratic process more generally  because we allowed it to.” Watch:

Author

The discussion and audience Q&A were moderated by Senior Fellow Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of Lawfare, and Susan Hennessey, fellow in Governance Studies and managing editor of Lawfare.

Full event video, audio, and transcript are or will be available here.

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