Return to Transcripts main page
First 2020 Presidential Debate; Interview with Frank Luntz and Kevin Sheekey; Countering a Rising China; Interview With Jeff Daniels; Interview With Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Aired 2-3p ET
Aired September 30, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like watching my own children having a disagreement at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Views from the voters with longtime GOP advisor, Frank Luntz, and former Bloomberg campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey. They join us to
digest that debate here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here, he talks about the art of the deal. China has made -- perfected the art of the steal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Is America ready for a rising China? House Intelligence chairman, Adam Schiff, says no and he'll tell us why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you can rely on me, sir, to tell you --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need loyalty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Jeff Daniels becomes Jim Comey. The actor tells our Hari Sreenivasan the challenges of channeling the FBI director for the new
miniseries, "The Comey Rule."
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Now, people around the world were also tuned into America's first presidential debate and what they walked away with, well, was not great. A
high-ranking German official says, it's troubling coming from those vying for the most powerful office in the world. Another European says, the
debate shows the bad shape of American democracy. While Britain's former intelligence chief, says the country we have looked to for leadership has
descended into an ugly brawl.
True to form, Trump came out slugging and swinging, often incoherently and he failed to abide by any of the debate rules. Biden benefited from a very
low bar. He wasn't the addled incompetent that Trump has tried to brand him.
Crucially though, the event did deliver on its hype, it was indeed significant as a showcase of both candidates' side by side for the very
first time, exhibiting their differences. But what do American voters think? Frank Luntz has been running focus groups for years, monitoring
American voters' responses to major political events and he's also advised Republicans on messaging and strategy in the past. And Kevin Sheekey is the
former campaign manager for Michael Bloomberg. He is currently global head of communications and government relations for the Bloomberg operation. And
they join me now.
Welcome to the program.
Can I first ask you to react to one little bit of fallout from last night since there's so much reaction to what happened? The Election Commission is
talking about revisiting some of its rules, some of its order and format. Frank Luntz, what do you think they should and could do?
FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER AND POLITICAL STRATEGIST: My focus group that occurred within minutes of the debate finishing was pretty unanimous that
they want to give the power to shut off the microphones, at least lower them so that a candidate like Donald Trump cannot constantly talk over Joe
Biden. It was a little bit done in the other direction but it's much more Trump interrupting. They believe that whoever is the moderator should have
the capability to silence them when they will not silence themselves. I know that that will be very controversial and that you're going to have
some issue in the Trump campaign whether or not they will accept that.
I got to tell you, Trump's constant interruptions were very, very bothersome to undecided swing voters and it did turn some of them against
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's really interesting coming from, as I said, someone who's advised Republicans in the past on messaging and on how to
actually win campaigns. Kevin Sheekey, is silencing the mic the way to go? Are there other things that need to be done?
KEVIN SHEEKEY, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR BLOOMBERG 2020: Well. it's not a lot he can do. Listen, what Frank said is remarkable, right. We're having
a conversation about turning off the mic of the president of the United States because you can't abide by rules and he can't have a civilized
discussion. I think what you said across, you know, the rest of the world is, yes, they watched in horror in terms of what happened last night. They
watched a president who is not so much a president as he is a Twitter troll and what happens when you bring a Twitter troll on to a debate stage. We
used to call it a heckler. I think a Twitter troll is probably a better explanation of it now.
You know, you could give him a red light that says his time is about to expire, I'm pretty sure this president is blowing right through a red light
when he's behind the wheel of a car on a debate stage. So, it's clearly not going to work. It is clearly something that they can and will consider. I
assume that it's something they'll have to do, if not for the Town Hall, which is a different format and the next debate sort of style event that
But the third and final time that these two gentlemen will be together will be a format very much like this one, and I don't think the Debate
Commission, which has done this for a very long time and is very serious about what they do and wants to present topics seriously to the American
public and to the world is going to abide by what happened last night.
AMANPOUR: Frank, you started by talking about the focus groups and you did one immediately after the debate. I think they are -- well, I believe the
undecided vote as you were saying, I'm not sure whether they're from swing states, but nonetheless, undecided. I want to play a little bit of some of
the things they were talking to you about, particularly when you asked them to describe in a word each candidate. Here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUNTZ: Michelle, word or phrase, describe Donald Trump tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Horrid.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chaotic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unpolished.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Crackhead.
LUNTZ: Trevis, word or phrase to describe Joe Biden's night?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Better than expected.
LUNTZ: Better than expected. Sheryl, word or phrase?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say that he was definitely more professional than Trump and I think he's more a people person. I really do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Confident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politician.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Frank, were you surprised by that? I mean, all of those who we picked and the majority who we -- you know, we watched the whole focus
group, but the majority were pretty much balanced that way and most of them certainly felt that Biden had been more professional. Is that a worry for
President Trump? I mean, I guess that's just like a rhetorical question, but what should President Trump take away from that?
LUNTZ: It's not necessarily a rhetorical question because one wonders what does Donald Trump take away from these debates. I'll give each one bit of
insight. I know some of these people and I don't represent Donald Trump. I don't represent Republicans anymore. I like to think that I've gone beyond
that. And Kevin Sheekey, same thing with him and the Democrats. I don't know if Donald Trump hears the voices of the people who tell him, we agree
with you but we don't like your style. We like your policies in issues like China or job creation, but we don't like your Twitter and we don't like how
you treat people.
I don't know if he actually hears that. And our undecided voters walked in there wanting to know policy, and what they really got to know is
personality. And if you're going to do a personality -- and even Donald Trump would agree with this, if you're going to do personality then Joe
Biden's got the advantage.
AMANPOUR: Kevin, do you agree on that?
SHEEKEY: You know, first of all, let me say, said It's great to be out with Frank. I've known Frank for 20 years and no one does what Frank does
as well as he does in terms of bringing focus groups in together and getting individual reactions from folks. And obviously, this is a seminal
event to see that kind of reaction.
But, you know, Donald Trump had to win the debate last night. He's losing the election. You know, he's behind 68 points in Wisconsin and Michigan.
He's now down by nine in Pennsylvania. You know, the noose is tightening. We're obviously investing very heavily in Florida, which is really, I
think, where we can end this campaign, but he had to win.
You know, it's pretty clear that everyone was a loser but it was also pretty clear that Donald Trump did not win the debate last night.
AMANPOUR: Tell me about Florida. You just mentioned you're heavily investing in Florida. Florida is generally thought to go Trump's way. I
mean, it certainly did last time, it's a major, major indicator state. What are you doing in Florida and why?
SHEEKEY: Well, it's more than just an indicator state. You know, we have really six states that will decide this election, there's maybe, you know,
6 after that, but there are really 6 states where this will be decided. I mention three of them, North Carolina and Arizona would fill it out and
then you get to Florida. But Florida is unique because Florida has a process of actually pre-validating their absentee ballots and then
reporting those on election night.
So, unless this is a very close election, we will know who won Florida on election night. Mike Bloomberg has gotten into Florida because he wants to
avoid the national nightmare that will occur after the election as Trump tries to rip apart the valid voting by millions of Americans and vote by
mail that Trump seems to think are somehow, you know, illegitimate, which clearly, they're not. Again, Florida is different.
So, on election night, November 3rd, we will know who won Florida. So, Mike has invested over $100 million in advocating for Joe Biden in that state,
in an election that is very close and a real uphill. But if Joe Biden can win Florida on election night, our national nightmare will end on November
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's really interesting. Frank, do you agree with that, because, of course, part of the narrative is, nobody's going to know
what happens on election night, that we're going to have to wait for a period of time to count all the mail-in ballots?
LUNTZ: And I believe that's the case. I don't think that that's a prognosis, I think that is going to happen. Most Republican voters, most
Trump voters want to vote the traditional way on Election Day in a machine. A majority of Democrats want to vote via postal votes. And so, in many
states those are counted after the machine votes are counted and they have to be verified in a different way. So, I agree with Kevin that we're not
going to now on election night who won but we may know in Florida.
But here's the issue, I -- and this is where I got it wrong and I want to admit that to you all and to the viewers. I used to be against campaign
finance reform because I thought more money is good money, that if we're going to spend all this money and sell cars and sell soap to sell a house,
everything, why can't we spend money to sell American democracy? But what is the money used for? It's used for negative ads, it's used for protests,
it's used for but things that make us angry with each other, and I think it's actually hurting the Democratic process.
The idea that one person, one outsider can walk in and spend $100 million, and I worked for Mike Bloomberg, I have supported him in the past, but it
makes me very nervous that particularly Democrats say that there's too much money, there's too much corruption in the process. And now, one individual
is spending a $100 million to influence the election, it's going to have influence. It could make a difference.
And, Christiane, I don't think that's good for American democracy right now.
AMANPOUR: Kevin, where's the money going?
SHEEKEY: Well, I think that the one thing that's not good for democracy right now, and I think Frank and I would agree on this, is Donald Trump. I
don't think he's good for democracy in America. I don't think he's good for democracy around the world. I think he is setting this country back more
than any individual in my lifetime and quite possibly in the 200-plus-year history of this country. We can have a serious conversation about how
people come together and do productive things and put this country back together after we're done with the destruction that he has done to it.
Listen, my mom worked for common cause for her entire, you know, professional life. I agree with Frank on the issue of campaign finance
reform. But I'm driven vastly more about what the future looks like with the Donald Trump in the White House for four more years.
AMANPOUR: And what I gather is some of Bloomberg's money is going to help felons who are now done their time and who are allowed to vote to actually
pay off the debts, which they need to pay off in order to be able to vote.
Can I just ask you, Frank, because, you know, one of the big constituencies that President Trump won the last time around was women, white women,
working class women, suburban women. What is your -- what are the stats showing? What are people showing in terms of women's votes this time
around, especially in the suburbs?
LUNTZ: The numbers are not good for Donald Trump among women compared to four years ago, and I can even isolate it more specifically. It's women
with children, career women with children who are very nervous about sending their kids back to school. Now, this does go state by state, but in
state like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, moms are nervous about just throwing up in the doors and putting the kids back into the classroom.
And I don't think that the president understands that.
That said, they don't agree with shutting down the economy either. They want some sort of balanced approach. And the issue for women now is that
they look at Donald Trump and they say, this is not a person that I like because I don't think he likes me. But they don't disagree with him as much
on the policies. They look at Joe Biden and they say, this is a guy who I do like. He does care about me. But they're not convinced that his policies
aren't too left-wing for the mainstream of the country.
And other point, Donald Trump is doing better among Latinos in this election cycle than he did four years ago, and that's going to matter in a
state like Florida. The way that Trump still can achieve the White House is by winning the Latino vote and by driving out turnout particularly in rural
areas that participated to a great degree in 2016, but we never talk about them. We always talk about the urban. What about the farming community?
What about those who live in small towns? They're going to vote in big numbers, I think in record numbers.
So, I still believe this election is too close to call.
AMANPOUR: That is so interesting given all the polls and everybody should be wary of polls given what happened four years ago. But, Kevin Sheekey, on
that particular issue on, policy and what women -- particularly women voters, Latino voters and others might want to hear from Joe Biden. He was
very clear on health care, and that's a big motivator for a lot of people not just Democrats. Did he -- did Joe Biden last night score enough on
health care and, you know, raise fears that President Trump, if reelected, would slash, you know, Obamacare and the health insurance for millions of
SHEEKEY: So, I don't know who scored enough. I mean, listen, we have probably the most dangerous populist in the last 50 years running against
what I think is the most decent public servant that I've ever known. Joe Biden talked about health care last night. He talked about it in connection
with the Supreme Court nomination, what he knows is what people care about. The number one issue among voters now that Frank knows is the issue of
COVID and how we deal with it.
The number two issue is health care. And, you know, those issues are obviously connected. Donald Trump has clearly failed at both of those. I
think people understand after the Woodward book that not only has he failed, he's lied about his failure. And I think Chris Wallace worked very
hard to try to scratch at the truth that Donald Trump has no plan for health care despite you know, what he says otherwise.
The economy is tied to that too, and that's the third issue in voters' minds, if you ask them about their preferences. But, you know, Frank sort
of, you know, cut into that too, you can't really separate the issue of COVID from the issue of the economy right now unless we can deal with the
issue of the viral nature of COVID, it's really tough to bring people back to work, and Trump has failed at that.
You know, Christiane, I was on your show a few months ago and I talked about the things that we were doing to assist New York in a track and trace
program. And I predicted at the time that the federal government would fail, and that that's why we were stepping in. And that failure couldn't be
more obvious today. And I think it's reasonably obvious to most Americans that the president has failed in this regard and has affected their health
care and it has affected the economy, and those are the three issues they care about most.
AMANPOUR: And, Frank --
LUNTZ: Yes. Christiane --
AMANPOUR: Yes. Go ahead.
LUNTZ: Because Kevin has made good points here and I'm not a defender of the president and I don't want to be in the political situation. To be
accurate, I don't want to be a partisan. But the voters are still nervous, they do not know where Joe Biden stands on health care. They do not know --
they know that he supports the personal option. What is the personal option? In terms of taxes, they know he supports raising taxes, but how
high and among who?
You know that he supports additional regulations, but does that close off coal? Does that end oil? Does that and fracking? They -- their doubt right
now and why they are still undecided, according to our group, is that they don't know what Joe Biden stands. They know he's a good guy, but they want
to know some detail, they want to know some policies.
And until Joe Biden explains where he is, and he should not be calling the president a clown. He should not be telling the president to shut up.
Imagine how different this interview would be if Joe Biden had stayed on the high ground and said to Donald Trump, shame on you. But he can't do
that because his commentary, while not as frequent as Trump, was still pretty rude and unseemly for a presidential debate. Joe Biden has got to
focus on the issues. Donald Trump has got to be less rude. Or not only not on do they say, to hell with both of you, but we really have a democracy
that we may not be able to pull together after Election Day.
AMANPOUR: So, clearly that is something that both candidates have to deal with, all the things you just mentioned. And another one, of course, that's
rocked the country is the uprising for racial justice and the way each side is portraying it. I think a lot of people would taken -- and I wonder
whether you think it's an election issue, a lot of people were taken by the fact that under direct questioning, President Trump refused to denounce the
white supremacists and the armed militias.
I'm going to play a little bit of the back and forth on that issue and then, also, we're going to play what Vice President Biden said about the
white supremacist groups today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, then do it, sir. Say it. Do it. Say it.
TRUMP: You want to call him -- what do you want to call him? Give me a name. Give me a name. Go ahead.
BIDEN: White supremacist and white --
TRUMP: Who would like me to condemn.
BIDEN: White --
TRUMP: Who? Proud Boys, stand back and standby. But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody has got to do something about antifa and the
BIDEN: My message to the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group is, cease and desist, that's not who we are. This is not who we are
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You know, how worried are you -- both of you -- let me ask you first, Kevin, of this refusal, again, to take a stand against white
supremacist and armed and violent white supremacist, and for --
SHEEKEY: Hey, listen, I --
AMANPOUR: Yes, go ahead.
SHEEKEY: I think that's the headline of the debate. I mean, listen, the debate was a mess and we knew it was going to be a mess. So, nothing about
this should be surprising to us. Trump was rude. He interrupted. He was unpresidential. Shocking. The real shocker last night, I've never heard of
the Proud Boys. The idea the president of the United States would be asked about a group like that and you didn't use the most important quote and I
think this really was the headline last night, which was, stand back and standby.
So, we have a racist homophobic group of white supremacists in this country right now that are printing up t-shirts, that say stand by -- stand back
and standby, right. It is outrageous. And it is the headline, right. You know, we didn't have to have that headline. The president could have
condemned them for being white supremacist and we would have moved past it. But instead, the president of the United States says, stand back and
standby, as he's declaring millions of votes, that Frank actually accurately talked about, people who are sending in by the millions in
states all across this country to be invalid.
The reason that we're in Florida and the reason we're fighting so hard, despite Frank's objections, is because Donald Trump, if we don't win in
Florida, will seek to tear this country apart. He is telling groups like that to stand back and standby. His son is calling for an army and an
insurrection. It is amazing in modern times that we were talking about these things. And I actually think what you played there, despite the fact
of not using the quote --
AMANPOUR: We did, we did. Kevin --
SHEEKEY: -- that I think people need to hear him say was the headline.
AMANPOUR: We did. Yes, we did. You may not have heard it. It's weird with this technology right now. But --
SHEEKEY: That is the headline for last night.
AMANPOUR: -- the stand back and standby, we did. Yes, we did just air it.
SHEEKEY: That is the most shocking thing that happened last night.
AMANPOUR: So, Frank, I want to ask you to react.
SHEEKEY: And I would love to hear Frank explain that.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I want to ask you, because Kathleen Belew, who is a historian who specializes in white power, twitted, we are decades, if not,
generations into this problem. A green light like stand back and standby is catastrophic. And just for those, like me, who didn't know the Proud Boys,
it is a violent far-right group whose members have been sentenced to prison for attacking left-wing protesters in political street fights.
Is this an issue, Frank, for the voters in swing states and even if it isn't, what does it mean when the president refuses to condemn them?
LUNTZ: I wish she had condemned them. I agree with Kevin on that point. But I also wish that she would condemn the idea of a council culture where
somebody like me has trouble teaching on a college campus and has to go through all sorts of hoops and in the end, I get cancelled myself that we
are now reaching a point where it is dangerous to speak up against what conventional wisdom is or to speak up. If you were, God forbid, if I ever
said the words all lives matter, 10 years ago all lives matter, everyone accepted it. Black lives matter. Latino lives matter.
The very fact that I'm raising it right now, Christiane, I know you're going to get hate mail from 2 or 3,000 people. That we have now allowed
intolerance, whether practiced by the left or the right, we have now allowed intolerance to dominate our academia, sometimes in the media,
Hollywood. Our culture is so brittle and so brutal, and I've been to some of those protests in New York and in California, and I came back to
Washington to watch one of them, there is no one seeking accommodation, there's no one seeking to solve the problem, which there is.
No -- you're right, Kevin, Donald Trump is not helping that. But Joe Biden is not helping by standing aside and not speaking up against what was going
on in Wisconsin, what was going on in Oregon. Christiane, our society --
SHEEKEY: So, that's --
SHEEKEY: That's not true, Frank. And if you look the speech that he gave - -
LUNTZ: Kevin, it's --
SHEEKEY: -- he struck a balance.
LUNTZ: -- in trouble.
SHEEKEY: And we're not comparing people on the far-left or the far-right. We are comparing two candidates on stage.
SHEEKEY: And one of those has been extraordinarily balance in addressing these issues, particularly on issues of policing. And one of them is
telling, you know, racist organizations with a history of violence to stand back and standby.
AMANPOUR: We will continue this --
LUNTZ: You said that --
AMANPOUR: We'll continue this hopefully around the next debate. Frank, Kevin, thank you very much indeed.
Now, while foreign policy was barely mentioned in Tuesday's debate, one country did come up, and that was China. Both candidates accuse the other
of being soft on Beijing. Here's what Biden said about COVID and China's President, Xi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We were insisting that the Chinese -- the people we had of the ground in China should be able go to Wuhan and determine for themselves how
dangerous this was. He did not even ask Xi to do that. He told us what a great job Xi was doing. He said we owe him a debt of gratitude for being so
transparent with us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, America's relationship with China is indeed complicated, it is part dependent and part defensive. And now, a new major report from the
House Intelligence Committee is warning that for all the bluster, Washington, in fact, is not ready to counter a rising China. Chairman, Adam
Schiff is joining me now from Washington.
Chairman Schiff, welcome to the program.
I'm going to get China in just a moment. But I just want to ask you, as a ranking member on Capitol Hill there, what you made of the debate, and I
don't mean, you know, the process and all the rest of it, what do you think was the most important matter of substance that happened on that stage?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, you know, given I've had such a focus as I've had to on democracy and the risk to our democracy, what concerned me
the most that happened on that stage was the president urging his people to go to polling places, his unwillingness to accept the result of the
election, his effort to discredit millions of absentee ballots, his pushing out of propaganda that the Russians are amplifying, all of that is an
attack on our democracy.
And then you add to it the unwillingness to condemn white supremacist groups and how they are now running with his comments, that to me is the
most dangerous and significant outcome of that that debacle we witnessed last night.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me just play then a little snippet of the issue of election integrity and accepting the vote in a peaceful transition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election. And in terms of whether or not when the votes are counted and
they're all counted, that will be accepted. If I win, that will be accepted. If I lose, it will be accepted.
TRUMP: I am urging my people -- I hope is going to be a fair election. If it's a fair election --
BIDEN: You're urging them what?
TRUMP: -- I am 100 percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Chairman Schiff, you know, many of you and the independent analysts keep saying there's no evidence of any massive fraud in the past
having used mail-in ballots. I guess I want to know what the system -- is the system strong enough in your country to actually enforce the correct
result of an election whichever way it goes? Is there a chance that it could be endlessly disputed and it could become, you know, something even
worse than what the world saw over the 2000 election?
SCHIFF: Well, normal circumstance the system is more than capable of handling this. We've handled millions and millions of absentee ballots
without a problem in the past, but we've never had a president who was the problem. A president who is seeking to discredit the election in advance,
to cast doubt on it, to raise suspicions about it, who is encouraging of foreign powers like Russia to do the same and amplify his false messages.
And if we have the election and the president does what he is capable of doing, and that is declaring a false victory before the votes have been
counted and then unleashing legal dogs to try to attack the balloting process and egging on the people around the country to acts of violence,
which he is also more than capable of doing, then we're in very uncharted waters.
I think the remedy here is Americans doing their civil and civic duty and turning out in such massive numbers that the election isn't even close,
that any effort by the president to dispute the results of falls on deaf ears. But if it is close and the president can contest it, I think it could
be far worse than what we saw in 2000.
AMANPOUR: You heard what I introduced the program with, with the horrified reactions from allied states around the world. Now, the main advisory or
competitor China, which we're going to talk about in more detail in a moment, also had some things to say, obviously, not President Xi and not
the actual party leadership, but the "Times," the "Global Times," which is closely aligned with the leadership said the candidates and the debate
obviously did not show an exemplary role to the American people on how to engage in debate. So, that's their comment.
I want to know what you think in terms of foreign interference. You know, most people believe that Russia is the main foreign instigator into, you
know, confusing the American democratic process. But others, some of them, like President Trump, talks about China doing that. What do you know in
terms of intelligence? Who's the biggest culprit in interfering in America's elections?
SCHIFF: There's no question when you look at the intelligence that it is Russia that is most actively intervening to try to determine the result to
try to help reelect Donald Trump and to sow chaos in the United States, and it's doing that in a number of ways, on social media, through hacking
operations, but it is amplifying the president's false claims about mail-in voting and amplifying the president's false smears against Joe Biden.
China, the Intelligence Community has acknowledged publicly, has a preference for who wins. Now, that's not uncommon. Probably most nations on
earth have a preference about who they'd like to see as president of the United States. It's a very different thing though when you're engaged
across a whole series of modalities to try to influence the outcome and do so covertly, that's what the Russians are doing and that puts them in a
completely different category.
AMANPOUR: Well, we had an interesting report last night suggesting that the -- certainly, the Kremlin's chief propaganda is having a potential
change of heart after four years of Trump, but we'll see. I asked you about this because a whistleblower, Brian Murphy, from the Department of Homeland
Security claims that he was ordered by the White House to stop producing intelligence reports about Russian interference and instead focus on the
threats posed by China and Iran.
You have just explained that. But I want to so ask you, your committee has up with a very important intelligence report and assessment about China,
essentially saying that you all are not up to countering a rising China.
I mean, that sounds pretty bleak and pretty catastrophic. What exactly does it mean, and why are you not up to this?
SCHIFF: Well, a couple things.
We are pursuing the whistleblower investigation, as you mentioned, these disturbing allegations, which we have seen, frankly, in other areas, more
than corroborated, that the administration is trying to suppress information about Russia's threat to the elections and hype the threat from
So, that perversion of the intelligence community is deeply damaging and destructive. There will be a long period of recovery for the intelligence
community when the Trump chapter is over to regain that kind of independence it really must have to speak truth to power.
But in terms of the China threat, for decades now, we have so focused on the counterterrorism threat that we have, I think, allowed to atrophy our
positioning with respect to hard targets like China.
And, given China's dramatic rise and how China's challenging now, challenging us in every field of domain, on the sea, on land, in
development assistance, in diplomacy, in space, in military matters, with its Road and Belt Initiative, it means that we need to be at the top of our
We need first-class insight into Chinese leadership and intentions. And we're going to have to move this aircraft carrier that is the intelligence
community in that direction. And that's going to take time, and we need to get that started right now.
AMANPOUR: But you also say that the intelligence community needs to broaden the efforts, needs to bring on experts in other domains, like
technology, health, the economy, et cetera.
Explain what that -- what you're calling on?
SCHIFF: Well, for example -- and you couldn't have a more profound example right now than the pandemic.
I think prior to probably January of this year, it was hard to imagine that a soft threat, what was considered a soft threat, like a health threat,
would claim the lives of more Americans than any other threat we were looking at in terms of terrorism or nation state actors, and yet it has.
And so we need not only to have a focus on China as a specific hard target and capable and rising power, but that needs to be integrated into all the
disciplines, so that, when we look at health issues, we're looking at them in their own right, but also with an eye towards China and health threats
that may emanate from China.
When we're looking at technological issues, when we're looking at issues of democracy vs. authoritarianism, we need to look at China's employment of
CCTV cameras and big data analytics and facial recognition software, the export of those technologies around the world.
So, we need to be able to integrate that expertise on China with the expertise in our agencies on technology. The same is true of space. The
same is true at sea and really in every way. We're going to have to up our game in order to compete successfully.
AMANPOUR: And do you think, like others have said on this program, that there is a closing window of opportunity?
SCHIFF: I think there's still time to do this. And we still have tremendous advantages and resources.
You would think, from China's rise and a lot of concern about it, that they're spending much more on their military and diplomatic efforts.
They're not. We're spending more. We're just not spending it as wisely as I think we need to, in light of the challenges we face.
And we took a fresh look in the Intelligence Committee at our intelligence posture. We need to do the same thing in defense, in diplomacy, in foreign
assistance to make sure that we are getting the maximum bang for the buck, and that we're investing in ways that help us meet this challenge.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you, on national security, there's been a lot made over the last few days, certainly, about the threat to national
security of white supremacists.
Here is the whistleblower who I mentioned, Brian Murphy, of the DHS, came forward and said he claims he was ordered to downplay the security risk
from white nationalist terror groups.
Are you concerned that they are -- that is, like the FBI and others say, is a very serious threat and a national security risk to the United States?
You just heard the conversation we had at the end of our last panel?
SCHIFF: Oh, without a doubt it is the preeminent domestic terror threat comes from these white nationalist groups, these right-wing violent groups.
And we see, unfortunately, a lot of this proliferating online. You also see dangerous conspiracy theory groups like QAnon. And this poses a very
dramatic challenge to us.
And, again, any efforts by the intelligence community to downplay that threat because it embarrasses the president or because it's not consistent
with the narrative that they would like to tell, which is so focused on Antifa and other things, that's a singular disservice to the country and
puts us more at risk.
So, yes, it's a grave problem. It's a growing problem, and it's one we need to pay attention to.
AMANPOUR: And, apparently, you have issued a subpoena for more information this to the department.
SCHIFF: Yes, we have had to.
The Department of Homeland Security, much like we have seen over the last few years, like other agencies, is, tragically, stonewalling our
investigation, putting artificial roadblocks in the way, refusing to turn over certain documents, refusing to give lawyers clearances, so that we can
interview their clients, including the whistleblower himself.
So they are doing what they can to drag their feet. And we are doing what our -- what we can and what we must, by using compulsory process, like
subpoenas, to demand answers, and we're going to stay at it until we get those answers.
AMANPOUR: And, finally -- I have got about 30 seconds for you to answer this -- "The New York Times"' reports of the Trump tax records suggest that
he's $400 million in debt, that he needs to repay sometime during, if he's reelected, the course of the presidency.
How does that impact, do you think, from your perspective, on the performance as president? And is there a national security implication to
SCHIFF: Well, there's absolutely a national security implication.
We don't know who the holders of these debts are. We have tried to find out. We subpoenaed, for example, the Deutsche Bank records. This was a bank
known for its laundering of Russian money, one of the few, if only banks that would still lend money to Donald Trump.
If he's indebted to foreign powers or oligarchs, if he goes to foreign powers for essentially rescue when these debts are coming due, it obviously
could warp U.S. policy in a way that's very dangerous for our country.
AMANPOUR: Chairman Schiff, thank you so much.
Adam Schiff, thanks for joining us from Capitol Hill today.
And now the former FBI Director James Comey is also testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee today over the FBI's 2016 Russia investigation.
It is the latest twist for Comey, whose fractious relationships with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have transformed both his life and his
Now a new miniseries ripped from the pages of Comey's own memoir is dramatizing the story. It is called "The Comey Rule."
And the Emmy Award-winning actor Jeff Daniels plays who? Comey.
Here he is talking to our Hari Sreenivasan about it.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks.
Jeff Daniels, thanks for joining us.
So, "The Comey Rule" just rolled out on Showtime. And for those who didn't watch it, the first episode is really about everything that led up to the
2016 election, and then James Comey's involvement, and then the second episode was what happened after.
I want to ask. I mean, you have played so many different types of characters. What drew you to play James Comey?
JEFF DANIELS, ACTOR: Well, as an actor, I didn't know how to do him.
And that's -- there's a risk of failure in that. I have been doing that a lot since "Newsroom" and everything after that. There was always -- it
wasn't an easy, oh, yes, I know how to do that. And Comey was the same thing. Just as a dramatic character, he's a -- he's complicated. And so --
and the story is complicated.
So, just from the initial, do you want to do it, there's a risk of failure. And that's kind of brought the challenge of acting back to me over the last
10 years. And so that was the main reason I jumped in.
SREENIVASAN: I want to show a clip for some of our viewers. It's sort of the infamous dinner, the loyalty dinner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: It's true. Mr. President, you can fire the FBI director at any time for any reason or for no reason at all.
But I want to stay, because I love the bureau and I love my job and I believe I'm doing it well.
BRENDAN GLEESON, ACTOR: One thing I never had to think about the Trump Organization, because I did so much myself -- people think we were so big,
but the truth is, I did everything.
And I have to rely on people. I have all these idiot advisers around who think they got me elected. You know who I actually listen to? TV people,
because they have got to get ratings every day.
A White House adviser can guess wrong, still keep his job, not the TV guys. A lot of smart people in that business.
DANIELS: Well, you can rely on me, sir, to tell you...
GLEESON: I need loyalty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: When you're watching that, as somebody who is not privy to what happened in that conversation, someone who didn't read James Comey's
book, you're thinking to yourself, this is a moment where he is realizing, in a way, that his whole philosophy of life has totally been challenged by
the person sitting across the table from him.
DANIELS: Yes, who happens to be the most important person in the country, as president.
That scene is a great example of, on one side of the table, you have got honesty and decency and respect for the rule of law, of telling the truth
at all costs, and, on the other side of the table, you have the opposite of that.
And I think a lot of what's going on with the country now, that that's part of the polarization that we're seeing.
It was a reminder to me and maybe to people who see it of what honesty and decency and respect for the rule of law looks like and sounds like, and I
think "The Comey Rule" is a great example of putting that on display and reminding us what we have lost and what we could lose forever.
SREENIVASAN: And during that taping, turns out the real Jim Comey was watching. What was that like?
DANIELS: That was the day Jim came to the set.
And, fortunately, I had been shooting for two months. So, I had him and was told I had him. So I was OK. And I have a job to do. We have got to get
through that eight-page loyalty dinner scene, which is tough.
And Brendan Gleeson came in, no rehearsal, no running lines. Roll camera, go. They did a couple of takes on the wide shot. And then Billy Ray, the
director, writer, said, got somebody I want you to meet, which I knew he was coming. I just didn't know he was there then.
And he -- Jim walks around the corner. And you hope he likes it, because it's not like we're going to reshoot two months. But it's -- you hope that
it's authentic. You hope that he recognizes himself.
SREENIVASAN: And what did he say?
DANIELS: Yes, because of -- well, he said -- he said: "You ruined my day. You brought back all the emotions. You brought back all the awkwardness,
the I don't know what to say to that, the trying to keep up with Trump's subject switching and spinning and this and that."
And he said, "You brought it all back." And it made him a little nauseous, which usually is not the kind of thing you say to an actor after a
performance. But, for me, it was a great compliment.
SREENIVASAN: What kind of research do you do?
I mean, if that's -- if you have been shooting for two months, how did you get him? How did you get him down?
DANIELS: I didn't meet with him beforehand. I offered to near the end of the run of "To Kill a Mockingbird" on Broadway. I couldn't leave. And so,
if you're in New York, stop up. And he had no plans to come up and didn't, which I was fine with.
I didn't want to impose myself on someone who's been vilified and then go down and watch him eat dinner. I had enough. For any character, I had
enough. I had the book. I had the audiobook where Jim read it. You have YouTube. He's everywhere. So, I had plenty going in.
I learned soon on that one of the things I said in October 2016, when the case was reopened, I said, what is he thinking? And the film shows what he
was thinking. And so that became how you approach it. You don't put a lot of, let me try to pretend I'm Jim Comey, because you're not going to
believe that. You already know it's me, Jeff, the actor, and you're not -- it's going to read false, either consciously or subconsciously.
So I didn't do much of anything. But I thought what he thought. And so thinking like Jim Comey, feeling what Jim Comey felt, and then sitting on
honesty, decency and respect for things like the rule of law that are bigger than he was, that became the approach.
SREENIVASAN: What's also interesting about this is that Gleeson's performance of -- on Trump isn't really kind of a parody or a mocking one.
It's not Alec Baldwin.
When you watched it, when you were obviously in the scenes with him, how did you -- how do you think about that?
DANIELS: Comey said something about being with Trump when you're alone in a room with him three feet away at a loyalty dinner, for instance.
You see something that you don't see on television, and that's a private menace. And I think Brendan found that. I think he found the darkness. I
think he found the -- whatever it was Brendan found. I didn't talk to him.
But there was something that pulled you in, which is part of film acting. You want, again, to pull the audience in. And I think Brendan did a
brilliant job of suggesting Trump with the voice, with the hair, but not in a caricature kind of way, enough that -- again, that it's like you
recognize Trump, but you know it's not Trump. And then you're leaning in, and then the actor that Brendan Gleeson is pulls you in the rest of the way
to what he wants you to feel and see.
That's what I was watching. I was watching a brilliant actor use the tools to reach an audience in a way that was going to surprise them. And it
surprised me that day in a great way.
SREENIVASAN: There's another clip, which is the decision process before deciding three days before the election to make a statement that there are
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: We don't announce, and three days before the election, word leaks, the FBI has reopened the investigation on Hillary Clinton, not told
anyone about it, where does that put the credibility of this institution?
Another scenario, Hillary's just been elected. Republican-controlled House is drafting bills of impeachment before she's even sworn in. Now imagine we
find something incriminating. We present those findings to House Judiciary. They ask us when we first found these e-mails, and will be obliged to say
that we learned of them a month before the election.
And the world will conclude that we actively concealed this from the American public in order to tip the election. Where does that leave the
credibility of this institution?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Any letter that you put out at this juncture is going to be interpreted by the public to mean that we found new evidence of
DANIELS: If I don't inform Congress on this, I should be fired, run out of town.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: But, boss, what if our doing this results in the election of Donald Trump as president?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: You know, by that time in the episodes, the audience gets also a sense of arrogance with Jim, that he alone is the finger in the
dike, he's the person holding, in a way, democracy together, and not his bosses. He doesn't trust them.
I mean, there's a level of mistrust that he has, and that he is the last barrier here, where, technically, there are systems, but he doesn't have
faith in those systems.
DANIELS: He doesn't -- he didn't have faith in the people that were in the positions to execute those systems the way they were meant to be executed.
And I think, three or four years later, we're seeing an even more grossly attack on those -- Department of Justice, things like that.
He did have a sense of, I know what's right. He was guided by the rule of law and what he believed was right. And you could shake him from that if
you made a convincing argument. And they didn't. He felt that the people around him, above him who could have made the statement, like in the July -
- were compromised -- not comp -- were tainted because of having met with the Clintons on the tarmac, and that Sally Yates had worked for -- worked
under Loretta Lynch.
And these are all -- he could have done it differently. But that's what he did. And he did it because he believed that it was at least the most
uncompromised, untainted version, apolitical version of -- that he could present.
And, as somebody says in the movie, Jim believes being right will save him. And it didn't know.
SREENIVASAN: There are a couple of scenes, where I don't want to use this diminutive way, but there's almost this Pollyannish faith in institutions.
I think Sally Yates' character says something about, look at these buildings on 1600 Pennsylvania -- or look at these buildings on
Pennsylvania Avenue. They have been here for so long. They're going to be here.
Now, in 2020, as a citizen, when you look at that, does that seem like an antiquated idea? I mean, because we also -- in our conversation, you are
talking about what's on the ballot right now is the virtues. But we have had an attack from within institutions in such a novel way, that the
country seems to be in a different place just in a matter of four years.
DANIELS: The country is broken.
And I'm -- it's my feeling that Trump and what is now the Republican Party have broken it. We have to have our institutions and rule of law and
respect for those things as things that are bigger than us, sacred. They have been here for 240-plus years.
And it's not our -- we haven't earned the right to destroy them. I don't think it's Pollyanna. I think it's the thing that separates us from another
one-party rule, authoritarian country, institutions like that, and respect for them.
We have lost so much in the last four years, decency, honesty, respect, compassion, respect for the rule of law. I mean, it's all there.
But with that comes a resistance and an outrage. And you're seeing it after George Floyd. You're seeing it in the Women's March on the day after his
inauguration. And you're seeing it in countless other ways. That outrage is real.
And I think November 3 is an opportunity to -- for a new America. It really is. It could be the first chapter of a new America. And -- but you have to
-- you have to end what's going on now. And if the people show up, I have great hope that those institutions and the sacredness of those institutions
and what makes America what it is, that generous, compassionate, great country that it claims to be, I think that could happen on November 3, and
certainly in January.
But it's -- obviously, there are people who don't want that. And we will see. We will see how it ends up. I have hope.
SREENIVASAN: What you're saying now echoes that first speech that you had as Will McAvoy in the "Newsroom," at least the second part of the speech,
where you're a bit melancholy, and you're kind of longing nostalgically for a day when America was great and can be again.
When you mention Republicans, I remember reading that I think, I don't know, your dad was a mayor of the town that you lived in a long time ago.
And that's a different party than when he was around.
I mean, Stuart Stevens in his book "It's All a Lie" will tell you it's always kind of been there, that white supremacy and dominant caste and all
Isabel Wilkerson's book "Caste" just spells it out beautifully. It should be required reading for every white American.
But my dad believed in all those things, family values and church and respect for others and compassion and all of that. There was -- to
completely blast the Republican Party as a bunch of unfeeling whatevers, I have countless stories of my dad teaching me things that no one in this
Republican Party would do today.
And I feel badly for those Republicans. I have friends of mine who are just -- they're lost. And I think it's an opportunity for them.
Reince Priebus said, after Romney lost, we have to open our tent.
And I think a large white hand just slapped him upside the head. And there you go. And, suddenly -- and then Boehner is sitting in the Rose Garden
with Obama talking about a grand bargain, and they jerked his leash so hard, he retired.
My dad would be spitting, he'd be so mad.
SREENIVASAN: At the end of "The Comey Rule" is one of possibly the saddest parts, which is when you start realizing and you see on the credits all
these different characters that were involved in this either have resigned or been fired or left to a different agency.
People around the president are gone. But then you also say, well, there's good people that are in government that are also homeless now, that are
DANIELS: Career civil servants who just decided that they could no longer check their integrity at the door.
Sally Yates was hauled before Congress first. She was fired, and then she was hauled before. And she stood up. She stood up to those people. And she
was, I think, the first example in this mess of an apolitical public servant in the struggle that she had and others had to simply do their jobs
without being politically influenced when making decisions.
Jim was next, followed by Fiona Hill, William Taylor, Colonel Vindman, Marie Yovanovitch, others. These are not bad people. These are good,
honest, decent people with integrity who are trying to serve something bigger than themselves, which is this country that you happen to live in.
And they are being disrespected and tossed to the side, so someone can be reelected and stay out of jail.
SREENIVASAN: Jeff Daniels, thanks so much.
DANIELS: You're welcome. Thank you, Hari.
AMANPOUR: Vital watching.
And, finally, while Trump and Biden was sparring on the stage in Cleveland, Ohio, two female political leaders thousands of miles away in New Zealand
were taking part in an actual debate ahead of the country's general election next month.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, already famed for controlling COVID, and the National Party leader, Judith Collins, showed how a debate is done.
A long list of important topics were explored and excavated, including climate, child poverty, the housing crisis. Sounds like things people are
actually interested in.
And that's it for now. Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.