Note: Rep. Schiff's speech about the investigation into Russian election meddling, scheduled for Monday afternoon at the University of Pennsylvania, has been canceled due to the government shutdown.
WASHINGTON — One of the leading voices in Democrats' efforts to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election is coming to the University of Pennsylvania Monday with a warning.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Californian who serves as the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, says the threat of foreign interference is being dangerously downplayed by President Trump, and fears that many states are not ready to combat potential hacking during the 2018 elections.
Much of Pennsylvania, he said, could be vulnerable because of a lack of a paper trail for its voting machines, leaving no physical record of votes cast. The state was among 21 that Russian hackers targeted during the 2016 campaign.
"After what we saw in the last election, it's malpractice for any Secretary of State to not have a paper trail," Schiff said in a telephone interview ahead of his scheduled speech Monday afternoon at Penn's Perry World House, an international affairs research center. "Some states are better prepared than others, but the country as a whole I think (is) dramatically unprepared."
He blamed that on Trump, who has largely dismissed the reports of 2016 election interference.
"We have a president who should be leading that national conversation who is calling it all a hoax," said Schiff, who has taken on a national role as a Democratic voice pushing to dig into the meddling, and fighting attempts to dismiss the investigation.
Trump has called the inquiry a "witch hunt." He argues that Democrats have latched onto the hacking to excuse their 2016 loss and undermine his victory.
Top intelligence agencies, leading GOP lawmakers and many of the president's key aides have affirmed that Russia did interfere in the election — even if questions of collusion with Trump campaign remain unresolved — but a number of other Republicans have echoed the president's complaints and have attacked FBI investigators as biased.
That's part of why Schiff said he has been speaking to colleges: to take the case outside of Washington
"The threat to our system of checks and balances from within is greater than anything the Russians pose," Schiff said. "That very issue is going to be one of the central points that I want to raise with the public and students."
Republicans have defended their handling of the Congressional investigations, noting that they have reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses. They say that Democrats are posturing to damage the president's standing.