KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
So as we just heard, the White House is doubling down on its assertion that this indictment somehow exonerates President Trump and his team in the investigation over whether his campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election. And earlier today, we were able to catch California Congressman Adam Schiff as he was headed out of Washington. He's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which has also been investigating this issue. And I asked him what he makes of Trump's reaction to the indictment.
ADAM SCHIFF: He makes a couple false statements today that he's repeated in the past by saying that the special counsel has found or this indictment shows that there was no collusion and no effect on the outcome of the election. But, of course, that's not at all what the indictment shows. In fact, the special counsel has reserved judgment, at least in this indictment, about the Trump campaign role in the Russian interference in our election.
And as to the outcome - affecting the outcome of the election, it's clear that that's beyond their scope. They're not going to opine over whether something was determinative in the election or how it affected the election. That's really not their job. That's for political scientists to determine. So the claim otherwise is very misleading, again, by the president and the White House.
MCEVERS: Well, you know, it's funny. It's interesting. And then why would Rosenstein have made that statement if it's not within his purview to do that?
SCHIFF: Well, you have to look very carefully at what Rod Rosenstein said. This only goes to one element of the Russian active measures - the social media campaign. It doesn't discuss the hacking and the dumping. It doesn't go into the allegations concerning Trump Tower or George Papadopoulos. So that's all left for another day.
What he wanted to make clear is it makes no statement about the effect on the election, not that it concludes one way or the other. And I assume that was done at the behest of the White House, that the White House was eager to have some statement like that made so people wouldn't read the contrary conclusion. But of course the president is asserting it means something quite different.
MCEVERS: And he also was very clear. He said there's no allegation in this indictment that any American participated in this illegal activity, right? It's a very specific statement, isn't it?
SCHIFF: It is. And if you look at this indictment, when they refer to U.S. persons, what they're talking about is when these Russian actors posing as Americans online and in person reached out to Trump campaign workers, volunteers, they're really talking about at the local level...
SCHIFF: ...Trying to organize these protests and these counterprotests. They're not talking about the other allegations that we have seen regarding high-level contacts with the Trump campaign. And I think that's a very important distinction.
MCEVERS: You know, you are a former prosecutor yourself. Is that right?
MCEVERS: Yeah. I'm wondering what - you know, when you indict people who don't live in this country, you know, who may or may not ever be tried for these crimes, what's the legal strategy?
SCHIFF: Well, there are two things that really leap out at me about this. The first is the extraordinary level of detail that the Justice Department's special counsel was willing to put in this indictment. It has a deterrent impact. These people are not going to be happy to be named. There are going to be a lot of questions asked about how the Americans could know so much in such great detail. And the intelligence community had to conclude that that deterrent value was worth the disclosure of whatever sources or methods went into producing that information.
MCEVERS: You know, because this issue has become so politicized, as you well know, what does it mean for stopping this kind of thing from happening again, the kind of things that are alleged in this indictment?
SCHIFF: Well, what it means is that there's really no question at least in the special counsel's mind, in the intelligence community, those of us that work on the committee, that the Russians interfered. And they did it with three objects in mind. They did it to sow discord in the United States, and they also did it to hurt Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump.
That ought to be now just the accepted fact. We need the president to accept it because the only way we really prepare ourselves for the Russian intervention we know is coming in the next election is by having a whole-of-government approach to deterring this, to investigating this, to calling it out, to denouncing it when it occurs. We need the president to start accepting reality.
MCEVERS: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.