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American democracy is more vulnerable now than on Jan. 6, Schiff says amid hearings

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) says the House Jan. 6 committee investigation will reveal new details of the insurrection for the public.
Shuran Huang for NPR
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) says the House Jan. 6 committee investigation will reveal new details of the insurrection for the public.

American democracy is more vulnerable today than it was on January 6 because the "big lie" that Donald Trump won the 2020 election has spread, according to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

Schiff also said the House Jan. 6 committee investigation into the connection between Trump's voter fraud conspiracy claims and the insurrection on the Capitol would be valuable for the public.

"I think there are still many tens of millions of Americans with an open mind about the events of January 6, and even people who think they know what happened are open to learning more, and that's what we hope to reach," he said.

Schiff said the plan was still to hold a total of seven hearings, and the one he will head would cover former President Trump's attempts to pressure state officials to change election results.

"There will be a mix of information the public is aware of and a mix of information that the public has never seen," he said. "But what is really most important is how the information is put together, because what America learned about the plot to overturn the election, it learned a piece here and a piece there. So we want to tell the whole story."

This interview between NPR's Mary Louise Kelly and Rep. Schiff has been edited for length and clarity.

Schiff speaks to NPR's Mary Louise Kelly in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
/ Shuran Huang for NPR
/
Shuran Huang for NPR
Schiff speaks to NPR's Mary Louise Kelly in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.


Interview highlights

On whether his hearing will focus on a particular state or states

We'll be focusing on the battleground states everywhere the President and his enablers sought to coerce and corral individuals to do his will and overturn the election.

On whether the panel will make a formal criminal referral to the Justice Department

We have not discussed that as a committee. There's certainly been individual discussions, but I think we've decided to wait until we get through the hearings. We didn't, frankly, want to try to reach a conclusion on this before we were really far along in the investigation.

Schiff says the danger to democracy didn't end on January 6.
/ Shuran Huang for NPR
/
Shuran Huang for NPR
Schiff says the danger to democracy didn't end on January 6.

On if he thinks there's sufficient evidence for the DOJ to open a criminal investigation, regardless of whether the Jan. 6 panel makes a referral

Absolutely. And it's not just my opinion, but you've seen Federal District Judge David Carter in California — just on the basis of the limited information that he has — conclude that there were multiple federal laws that were broken by President Trump and by others around him.

Now, that doesn't mean that ultimately the department concludes there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But I think it does mean that you begin the work, and you can't ignore the evidence simply because it pertains to a former president or that it would be perceived as political. Because the decision not to pursue evidence where there is a credible fact pattern indicating crime, that's a political decision.

On the lessons he learned from the Trump impeachment hearings

It's a very different situation now in the sense that we're not trying this case to a group of senators heavily predisposed to either support or oppose the president there.

We want the public to understand all the different ways that Donald Trump tried to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power. For the first time in our history, a president could not accept losing such that he riled up enough of his supporters to attack the Capitol. And that's a danger that sadly didn't end on Jan. 6, because the big lie that led to that violence, he continues to push.

On what primary election success for dozens of candidates who support Trump's election lie says about the state of American democracy

It tells me it's more vulnerable today than it was on January 6. The big lie lives on. We are more at risk of losing our democracy today than we were a year and a half ago when violent insurrectionists were attacking the building outside, because that big lie has proliferated. They seem to be trying to prepare to succeed where they failed before, which is if they couldn't get someone to find 11,780 votes that didn't exist, they seem determined to have people in those positions next time who will.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Schiff said no decision had been made yet on a formal criminal referral to the Justice Department.
/ Shuran Huang for NPR
/
Shuran Huang for NPR
Schiff said no decision had been made yet on a formal criminal referral to the Justice Department.