Schiff: Dems failed to explain why people should care about Russia

Story highlights

  • Schiff says another cyber attack from Russia is inevitable

The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works for the podcast.

Chicago (CNN)While many are focused on what Russia did in last year's US election and whether there was collusion with the Trump campaign, the Democrat leading the House probe says he has an equally urgent concern: How to deal with the inevitable next attack.

"Where I think Democrats really fell down on the job is, we failed to persuade the country why they should care," Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files," a podcast from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN. "And that's not a mistake we can afford to make again."
Russian meddling in the US elections is now something that America must be prepared to confront in the future, Schiff said.
"How do we inoculate ourselves from this in the future? Because one of the key conclusions of the intelligence community is that the Russians will do this again," Schiff said. "This was not a one-off."
He added that a key reason he's advocated for public hearings is so the American public has a clear understanding of how Russia successfully interfered in the election, in order to effectively prevent it from happening again.
Moreover, he said the Russians could easily intensify their subterfuge in the future by taking authentic documents and altering them to create the impression of illegality on the part of their target. Schiff said the notion of injecting that kind of false information into an election "terrifies" him.
"You could imagine how difficult if not impossible that would be to disprove in the final weeks of a campaign and just how enormous that impact could be," he said.
"The only way we fight that is not just by cyber defense alone, which is never going to be enough. It has to be by informing the public and inoculating the public so they care more about the fact that this is the product of a foreign intervention than they do what is said in a stolen document," Schiff added.
During the hour-long conversation with Axelrod, Schiff warned that President Donald Trump runs the risk of appearing to be a "paper tiger" by taunting North Korea with threats he probably cannot — or should not — back up.
Schiff said there is "no good or even semi-good military option" for North Korea because of Kim Jong Un's ability to respond with a devastating attack on our South Korean allies.
If Trump says something that "puts him in the position of either looking like a paper tiger because he can't follow through on what he's said or having to take some military action that could unleash a whole chain of consequences," Schiff said, "neither one of those is necessarily a good outcome."
"What happens when the North Koreans set off another nuclear explosion?" he said. "What happens when they do fire more missiles? What is the President prepared to do? And what comes next? I'm not sure the President has really thought that out."
Instead, Schiff said, Trump should turn up the pressure on China by explaining that the United States would be forced to increase its military presence in the region to counter the North Koreans — something China is loath to see happen.
"These are the ways I think you increase the costs on China for maintaining the policy it's had over the last many years of a not-so-happy tolerance of the North Koreans' nuclear and missile programs," Schiff said. "That still may not be enough, but it is a chance that we have to fully explore."
The failure to make any progress diplomatically, Schiff said, would likely result in the North Koreans succeeding in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead and placing it on a missile capable of reaching the United States.
"I think we'll reach that point during this President's term in office," Schiff said. "We're going to be facing this if we can't somehow deter North Korea from what it's doing."
To hear the whole conversation with Schiff, click on http://podcast.cnn.com. To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at http://itunes.com/theaxefiles.