Transcript for Rep. Adam Schiff says 'there ought to be a review' of Kushner's security clearance
I'm joined now by congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the house intelligence committee. Good morning, congressman Schiff. Let's short with your reaction to reports that Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret back channel with the Russian sflsz well, of course, I can't confirm or deny whether they're accurate. If they are it's obviously very concerning and as you said at the top of the show it's all about the context. John Brennan testified this week what concerned him wasn't simply that the Russians were having contact with people associated with the trump campaign that the Russians have contacts with Americans quite routinely, but it was the context of an election campaign in which the Russians had been intervening to help Donald Trump, to hurt Hillary Clinton and, of course, if these reports are accurate, right after that campaign, after that intervention to have the president's son-in-law, a key player within the trump organization trying to establish a back channel with the Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility, you have to ask, well, who are they hiding the conversations from? Well, you're talking about context. So it would be okay if it was a back channel if all this other context hadn't happened. I know H.R. Mcmaster was not concerned about back channel communications. Historically there have been back channels. You know, I was disappointed to see the general say that. I have a lot of respect for him, sadly I think this is an administration that takes in people with good credibility and chews them out and spits out their credibility at the same time. Yes, that's true in the ab statistic what he said. You are saying he lost his credibility. No, but anyone within the trump orbit is at risk of being used and what the general said here, that may be true in the context where you're trying to arrange secret talks with the Taliban to negotiate a peaceful resolution or you're trying to achieve the release of hostages, but for people associated with the campaign after that campaign has ended and where the Russians during that campaign were helping you to try to establish a back channel and hide it from your own government, that's -- "The New York Times" and ABC news have both reported that the talks were about Syria, about the crisis in Syria and other policy matters. Well, that -- I don't think necessarily that mitigates this because, of course, the Russians have their own object in Syria very different than ours and want to prop up bashar Al Assad. Our policy at least at that time if these allegations were correct was very much in opposition to the Russian policy, and if American policy was going to change for the wrong reason, that is, as a thank you to their intervention in the campaign, obviously that's very problematic, just as problematic as it would have been if it was over the relief on the sanctions in Ukraine. This is all on allegation but something our committee needs to get to the bottom to as well as Robert Mueller I can't confirm or deny what we have seen. It was through monitoring the ambassador kislyak that this was discovered. Ambassador kislyak as to know he's monitored all the time. Could this be a ruse on the part of the Russians? Any explanation why they would put this out or get this information out or talk to each other thinking we'll think Kushner is involved but he isn't? You know, again, I don't want to comment too much beyond what is alleged here. Certainly in dealings with the Russians they're very sophisticated. You always have to take into consideration the Russians may be doing things that are designed to throw you off the track or provoke discord. They're very sophisticated so I don't think you can rule anything out. Can you see a reason, it's confusing to me why they would do this. It was back in December, Jared Kushner was not in government yet. Didn't even have a security clearance. Well, you know, it's hard to understand if these allegations are correct why this would be some kind of a Russian ruse. Why would they want to undermine the very government that they hope to have a good relationship with. The incoming trump administration, so I'm not sure you can see a motive for a ruse here but, again, all of this is still within the category of allegation. I do think ultimately we're going to want Mr. Kushner to come before the committee and I fully expect that to happen and I'm sure Mr. Mueller will want look into these allegations as well. Do you think because of these allegations he should stay in the white house right now. Well, there's another question about his security clearance and whether he was forthcoming about his contacts on that. If these allegations are true and he had discussions with the Russians about establishing a back channel and didn't reveal that, that's a real problem in terms of whether he should maintain that kind of a security clearance. Should he maintain it now? I know the DNC says no. Well, I think we need to get to the bottom of the allegations but I do think there ought to be a review of his security clearance to find out whether he was truthful, whether he was candid. If not then there's no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance. This came around the time that Kushner was reportedly looking for refinancing into one of his companies, buildings on fifth avenue and that he also met with an executive of a sanctioned Russian bank. Is that an issue? Well, it is an issue, and, of course, one of the things the Russians do and this is also in the category of allegation at this point is they financially entangle people and they like to do business with business people because they think they can exert economic influence over them in a way that will shape policy so if that was what happened here or what was going on here, yes, it would be of deep concern and something we need to get to the bottom of. There have been an extraordinary number of leaks since president trump became president. Is that a reason that Jared Kushner if the allegations are true might have gone around and tried to back channel so it wouldn't L eak? I don't think that would be a motivation here. To me that would require a certain roundabout thinking that doesn't make sense, doesn't resonate with me but you're right, I think leaks are an issue. They're an issue for every administration. They certainly are for this one. If this material is accurate, these allegations are accurate it represents another serious leak and that's a problem. There really have been a couple of categories of leaks. One that have potentially disclosed sources and methods, those are the most troubling, it could dry up very important information for the U.S. Government. The other is in the category of exposing malfeasance answer sometimes they overlap but yes we need to do everything to employee text our sources and methods. The investigation in the house, what is the mandate of your committee's investigation? What -- if it's a fact-finding mission, what kind of action is possible? How do you prove intent? Could iorance of the law clear somebody? Well, ignorance of the law is an issue Bob Mueller will have to address because he'll look into whether charges should be brought and if so against whom. Our responsibility is different. It is to try to figure out what happened. What did the Russians do, how did they do it. Did they use U.S. Persons in it? What was the U.S. Government response and ultimately our most important responsibility is to tell the public what we learned, tell the public what steps we'll recommend to prevent this from happening again so in that respect what the intent was we'll want to report to the American people, but it doesn't, you know, disqualify our concerns about it. It will have -- its greatest impact on whether a case is prosecutable but our job is informing the public and taking steps to protect the country. "The Washington post" reports that the gang of eight was recently notified of a change in tempo and focus in the FBI investigation if the pace of that is increasing, does your committee need to take a step back? Well, this is a very important question and I think the answer is, no. We have two very different responsibilities, before Bob Mueller was appointed we had a different contact at the department of justice to deconflict so questions like immunity for Michael Flynn, we obviously want to talk to the justice department, find out what are their prosecution equities here. That party is now changing, Mueller instead of rod Rosenstein but our fundamental mission hasn't changed and, indeed, if you look at rod Rosenstein's memo about the firing of Comey, his primary criticism was Comey talked about the investigation at the time he closed the investigation back in July. What that means because Mueller still works for Rosenstein when Mueller is finished if Mueller doesn't bring charges rosensteen will tell him not to talk about it at all, why he didn't bring them. What he found, what he didn't find. If he brings charges against some but not others he won't be able to talk about why he made those decisions. That's going to be our responsibility to inform the public and so that work really has to go on and it needs to go on and parallel need to deconflict where possible but it has to go on. One final question. Does congressman Nunez still has a say whether they still somebody subpoenas even though he stepped down as the chair of that -- He does. I don't think he should given that he stepped aside or recused himself. What I have been urging we have a committee vote. That's a procedure provided for in our rules or that the committee delegate to Mr Mr. Conaway with consultation to myself, similar to what the senate has done and what I recommend we do here. Thanks for joining us, congressman. Thank you.
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