The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told University of Pennsylvania students Thursday that President Trump poses a greater threat to the American political system than any foreign adversary.
"The occupant of the Oval Office is not the least bit of a champion for democracy," U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California said in a moderated conversation at the Perry World House, a hub for international affairs at Penn. "The threat from Russia to our democracy is now far less than the threat from within. There is nothing Russia can do to us that rivals what we are doing to ourselves right now."
Schiff, the committee's ranking member, spoke for 20 minutes before answering questions from William Burke-White, a Penn Law School professor and expert in international law and foreign policy, and students. Burke-White, who served on the policy planning staff under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, directs Perry World House.
At Penn, Schiff was met with a friendly crowd that repeatedly applauded his salvos against Trump and defense of liberal democratic norms.
In response to one student's question about Trump and the Justice Department, Schiff said to a standing ovation: "It's not [Trump's] Justice Department. It's the United States of America's Justice Department."
Schiff's talk, titled "Threats to Democracy at Home and Abroad," was rescheduled twice after conflicts with his congressional schedule.
Schiff has become a central figure in the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. The Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), has spent the last year looking into allegations that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.
Hours before the event at Penn, Schiff entered another political slugfest by accusing Nunes of "deliberately misleading" his colleagues by altering the memo they voted to publicly release, pending Trump's approval.
Nunes, who pledged to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia probe in April, has decried the FBI's "spurious" objections to releasing the letter.
"It's clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign," he said in a statement on his congressional web page.
The memo, which Trump reportedly told a lawmaker Wednesday he "100 percent" plans to release, alleges that FBI agents working for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to trail Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
In a tweet Wednesday night, Schiff said the memo the White House reviewed was "materially different" from the one committee members voted to make public. A spokesman for the committee's Republican majority told the Washington Post that the alterations included grammatical changes "and two edits requested by the FBI and by the minority themselves."
Burke-White asked Schiff whether he still believes Nunes should step down from leading the committee's Russia investigation. Schiff called on Nunes to step aside in March.