The United States congressman representing Los Angeles said at an event Thursday the current presidential administration’s influence on the media is threatening democracy and freedom of the press.
Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke at the Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture Series hosted by the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. At the event, he discussed his role in federal investigations of Russian intervention in U.S. elections, Mike Pompeo’s North Korea talks and Chinese businesses influences on U.S. politics.
In an interview with members of the press before the event, Schiff said he thinks college students must actively vote, organize protests and discuss politics because of UC Berkeley students’ low voting turnout in the last presidential election.
“We want young, idealistic and highly motivated people who aren’t discouraged by the current poor political landscape,” he said. “We must convince young people that their vote makes a tremendous difference,”
Schiff said he thinks the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear proliferation deal, which took place earlier this month, reduced the U.S.’s credibility in negotiations with other countries, alienated allies by escalating the threat of possible sanctions and destroyed the previous administration’s legacy of working hard in getting Iran to the table.
“North Korea will now need a more intense deal than Iran, and as that might not be possible, the president might be prompted to take military action,” he said. “The president has given the impression that so long as it’s a win for him, DPRK can continue to do whatever they want, making the U.S. look desperate for a deal.”
Schiff added he thinks Russia supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to weaken the United States’ democracy.
“I find it troubling how, globally, autocrats are on the rise today who challenge the idea of liberal democracy,” he said. “And yet with Trump disparaging his own media through throwing out press, halting mergers and taking partisan decisions for media outlets, the threat to democracy from Russia is less than the threat to democracy from within.”
Schiff said he will ensure there is authority to investigate and inform U.S. citizens about possible Russian money laundering and Trump’s business relationships with other nations if Democrats win the majority of seats in the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections taking place on Nov. 6, 2018.
“The job of a congressman is not to simply get re-elected, it is to do the right thing and then get re-elected, but oversight might involve getting documents from the Department of Justice, which puts (lives) of sources in danger,” he said.
In addition, Schiff said he tried numerous times to pass a bill that called for the U.S. to recognize the Armenian genocide. Although it passed through the Foreign Affairs committee, the House floor failed to pass it.
“When we need Turkey as a NATO ally for Middle East affairs, we have whole sets of secretaries and representatives weighing against the genocide recognition, and hence we need an administration that will do the right thing,” he said.
Barry O’Neill, a professor of political science, said Schiff has had a lot of experience in dealing with investigations involving intelligence espionage. Schiff worked for the FBI to prosecute a spy in 1991 and spent nearly 20 years in Congress, O’Neill added.
“(Schiff is) not emotional – other members of Congress can add that part – he’s clear and logical,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill added he thinks Schiff has been greatly involved on the national level in leading the investigation of Russian intervention in U.S. presidential elections.
“He’s been a star when it comes to the Russia investigation,” he said.
Amarissa Mases, a first-year political science student, said she came to the event because she wanted to learn more about the opinions of U.S. government representatives.
“He gave me some insights into the role of Congress like I never knew before and has inspired me to look deeper into my contributions,” Mases said.
Rucha Modi, a first-year global studies student, said she thinks the speech raised awareness of issues surrounding freedom of the press both internationally and domestically. She added she thinks students should attend similar events more often.
“Students should be on the front lines of holding politicians accountable as (misinformation) is a threat to democracy, and young people can influence our future,” Modi said.