U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), is the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence—one of the bodies overseeing the investigation of Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. The Chronicle sat down with Schiff to talk about the latest developments of the Russia investigation and how foreign actors can take advantage of research at American universities. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

On takeaways from the Trump administration’s response to developments in the Russia investigation:

They’ve responded really in two ways—to deny and distract. 

From the very beginning, the president has said ‘this is a hoax, we don’t even know if the Russians did it.’ It’s really breathtaking that the president of the United States says that the unanimous consensus of the intelligence agencies is wrong. ‘I don’t believe it, it’s a hoax, it’s a witch hunt.’ So denial is the first response of the president. And sadly all too many enablers of the president are willing to echo that fundamental untruth.

And the second response has been to distract. ‘Don’t look at what Russia did during the election. Look again at Hillary Clinton. When in doubt, investigate Hillary Clinton.’ And so that strategy of distraction has reached a fever pitch as the [Robert] Mueller [special counsel] investigation has intensified. So we are now investigating a seven-year-old transaction over uranium. And the White House is intervening with the Justice Department to push that investigation along, which is unethical. It violates the department policy and is yet another attack on our system of checks and balances. 

That’s the two-fold response, and I think we need to keep our focus on our investigation as well as resisting these efforts to tear down our checks and balances.

On whether certain populations will dismiss any outcome of the Russia investigation: 

I am concerned that the [President Donald Trump's] concerted attack on the mainstream media is having the effect of discrediting the free press, that a significant number of people will simply dismiss any conclusion that the president tells them is fake or false. When I was in college, I remember rushing home to the dorm to watch Walter Cronkite's last broadcast. That was a time when there was a much broader group of accepted facts. It would be unthinkable to attack CBS and NBC and ABC. 

Now, information is much more balkanized. People pick information they want to get and that makes it easier for someone to demagogue. So, I am concerned he is eroding the public trust in institutions with high journalistic standards because there are plenty of institutions with low journalistic standards to take their place. 

On foreign actors manipulating American universities:

We’ve certainly seen Chinese efforts to gather intelligence for the purposes of economic competition and make use of graduate students at American universities as a low-dollar tech transfer investment. So this is a problem. And we rely on the intelligence community and the federal government more generally on the path-breaking research that’s being done at universities that we subsidize and can’t afford to have stolen either for the purpose of creating competitors or for the purpose of supporting technological advances of rival governments. 

So it is a problem. There’s no easy solution to it. You don’t want to view everyone with suspicion that’s a foreign student that comes to work on science projects in the United States. But we have seen instances of that.