WASHINGTON — California Congressman Adam Schiff warned Jewish Democrats on Thursday about the possibility that the country could be thrown into “great turmoil” if US President Donald Trump loses the 2020 election but refuses to concede.
“He has always said that if he loses, it’s rigged. He said that before the last election, he’s likely to say that before the next election,” Schiff said in a conference call organized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “There’s already going to be the very real prospect that some people don’t accept the results.”
The House Intelligence Committee chairman’s comments follow House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent admonition that Democrats needed to win decisively in the presidential election, or the president would challenge the outcome. “We have to inoculate against that,” she told The New York Times. “We have to be prepared for that.”
Schiff said repeatedly Thursday that the Trump administration was not taking strong enough actions to thwart foreign interference in the 2020 elections, which would render the country susceptible to the kind of meddling Russia carried out in 2016.
Several states, the Democrat asserted, had obsolete voting systems that could not even be updated to ensure greater security – though he didn’t specify which ones.
“If you add to the equation that genuine questions are raised about technology or foreign interference, or the Russians do intervene again on Trump’s side … and the Trump administration doesn’t do enough to stop them, you’re going to have great turmoil in the country about the acceptance of the results, which is a hallmark of our democracy — that both sides accept the results of the election.”
Schiff, a former prosecutor, has used his leadership role on the intelligence committee, first as ranking member and then as chairman, to push for investigations into alleged Trump misdeeds and claims that he colluded with Russia.
His campaigns have earned him the ire of Trump, who has called Schiff “Adam Schitt” and “pencil neck,” among other sobriquets.
So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2018
Last month, Schiff said in a Washington Post op-ed that the investigations into Trump and Russia that have prompted presidential anger are far from over, and that even after special counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up his work, Schiff still suspects Trump was susceptible to foreign influence.
Speaking Thursday, Schiff said that Russian operatives will likely try to create a groundswell of skepticism about the integrity of the election, furthering a claim made many times by President Trump that he lost the popular vote in 2016 because of massive voter fraud.
“The Russians don’t actually have to alter the vote count, although the technology is vulnerable to them doing that,” Schiff said. “They just need to create a doubt as to whether or not we can rely on the results.”
Schiff told Jewish Democrats that he did not envision a dystopic deployment of the American military to prevent the transition of power, were Trump to lose.
“I don’t think there’s much risk that Trump is going to call out the military and there’s going to be tanks in our streets. The military would ignore that kind of an unconstitutional order or declaration of an emergency,” he said.
“But,” he continued, “you could foresee how a large part of the country would feel disenfranchised if there was again Russian meddling that went unanswered by a president who may have even welcomed that help.”
The Times recently reported that former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wanted to push for a cyber defense security package to prevent a repeat of Russian interference.
But Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told her that any public acknowledgement of Russia’s 2016 efforts raised questions about Trump’s credibility.
A senior administration official said Mulvaney told her it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below [the president’s] level.”
Trump, Schiff suggested, has been tacitly telling Russian President Vladimir Putin – who American intelligence agencies say ordered Russian operatives to help Trump’s campaign and hurt his opponent’s – that he would welcome his help again in 2020.
“Every time the president talks to Vladimir Putin and calls the Russian interference in our election a hoax, what he’s effectively communicating to Putin is: ‘I’m too weak to stand up to you. What’s more, as long as you’re doing it on my side, you can count on me never to lift a finger,” Schiff said. “Whether that is what the president is intending to say or not, I think that’s the message the Russians are getting.”
JTA contributed to this report.