House Intelligence Chair Rep. Adam Schiff says he wasn't informed before al-Baghdadi operation

Schiff says public hearings on impeachment will be coming "soon."

October 27, 2019, 1:49 PM

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., were not informed in advance of the U.S. special operations forces raid in northwestern Syria in which ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died, Schiff told ABC’s "This Week"

"My understanding [Pelosi] wasn’t [told]. But a couple of things, first of all, good riddance. [Al-Baghdadi] was a bloodthirsty killer to the degree that he retained operational control of ISIS," Schiff said. "This is an operational success, this is a symbolic victory. He had the blood of thousands and thousands of people on his hands, including many Americans and American journalists. So, this a great day, a ruthless killer has been brought to justice."

Schiff appeared on "This Week" moments after President Donald Trump announced the outcome of the raid that took place in northwestern Syria on Saturday.

"Last night the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead," the president said in remarks Sunday morning from the White House.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Oct. 27, 2019.
President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Oct. 27, 2019.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Trump confirmed that al-Baghdadi died after igniting a suicide vest, killing him and three of his children. "He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest killing himself and three children. His body was mutilated from the blast, the tunnel had caved in on it in addition, but test results gave certain immediate and totally positive identification. It was him," the president said.

Following his statement, Trump was asked by a reporter if he had notified any congressional leaders, including the speaker of the House. He replied, "We’ve notified some. Others are being notified now, as I speak. We were going to notify them last night but we decided not to do that because Washington leaks (are) like I've never seen before."

PHOTO: Chairman of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Adam Schiff (R), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 15, 2019.
Chairman of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Adam Schiff (R), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 15, 2019.
Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The House Intelligence Committee chair appeared on "This Week" two days after a source familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News that the Department of Justice had opened a criminal investigation into the origins of the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. The move means that a federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney John Durham, will now have the authority to subpoena witnesses, impanel a grand jury and potentially bring criminal charges.

"If these reports are correct and now Bill Barr’s Justice Department is doing a criminal investigation of people who properly looked into Russian interference in our election … it means that Bill Barr, on the president’s behalf, is weaponizing the Justice Department to go after the president’s enemies," Schiff told "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

Schiff said it did not matter even if Durham, the federal prosecutor, was well respected, telling Raddatz, "You can assign good people to investigate the president’s political rivals. It doesn’t mean the investigation is any less tainted."

Congressional Republicans have criticized the way Schiff has conducted the impeachment inquiry, with some members of the House pushing to censure the California representative this week. In the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by over 40 other Republicans, which called for the House to vote to formally initiate the impeachment inquiry.

It's unclear when Graham's resolution might come up on the Senate floor for a vote or whether more moderate Republicans will also support it.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell affirmed the legality of the current impeachment inquiry and ordered the Justice Department to give the House secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, handing a victory to Democrats.

"This is poor timing for Lindsey Graham," Schiff said, "The court just ruled that his argument essentially has no merit, that the House of Representatives can proceed as it has with an impeachment inquiry that has been authorized by our leadership, that no vote on the House floor is necessary. So there is no merit to Lindsey Graham’s argument."

In the past three cases of presidential impeachment, the House voted on and passed a resolution outlining the impeachment inquiry.

Schiff’s critics have also accused him of concealing the investigation from the public by conducting testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. While Schiff criticized Republicans in 2016 for withholding transcripts and excluding Democrats from the congressional investigation into Benghazi, the House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins, R-Ga., has accused the chairman and other Democrats of depriving House members of materials collected by the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry.

Schiff responded to the criticism, saying that in "prior impeachments, there were lengthy closed door investigations, fact-finding grand juries, in both Nixon and Clinton, that we didn’t have here. Why? Because Bill Barr wouldn’t authorize a criminal investigation into the president’s misconduct vis-à-vis Ukraine."

"We will be doing public hearings and I think we will be doing them soon," he added.

Schiff also mentioned that one person who could testify in public could be Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton.

"John Bolton is a very important witness," he said. A witness, Schiff concedes, the White House will try to prevent from appearing.

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