Story highlights

"The national security needs of the country have to come first," the California Democrat said

The US is "very poorly prepared" if the Russians interfere in the upcoming midterm elections

CNN  — 

The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee said that if President Donald Trump doesn’t act on the threat Russia poses, he could be derelict in his duty to protect the United States.

Earlier Wednesday, former US ambassador to NATO and George W. Bush administration official Nicholas Burns had accused Trump of “dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country” for what he said was Trump’s apparent disinterest in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

CNN’s Jake Tapper read the statement to Schiff, then said: “That seems rather strong. What do you think?”

“I would completely agree with that,” the California Democrat said on “The Lead” Wednesday. “The national security needs of the country have to come first, they certainly have to come as a higher priority than whatever effect this would have on how he views the legitimacy or the size of his election victory.”

The US is “very poorly prepared” if the Russians interfere in the upcoming midterm elections, he added.

“If this President won’t acknowledge what happened in his own election, what hope do we have that he will speak out when they do this again?” Schiff asked.

Schiff said the most important thing the US can do to protect itself is to have a “well-informed public,” and to “develop a consensus that we didn’t have during the last presidential campaign: That we will reject foreign interference, no matter who it helps or hurts.”

Many Republicans and some Democrats have also criticized Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not responding more strongly to Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 election.

On Tuesday, Trump wrote on Twitter: “The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling.”

But Obama’s defenders point out that he did raise the issue directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, directed a comprehensive intelligence review, shut down two Russian compounds, sanctioned nine Russian entities and individuals and ejected 35 Russian diplomats from the country.

Earlier Wednesday, CNN reported that Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia’s election meddling still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials.

Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee which is probing Russian election meddling, told Tapper: “What is of most consequence is preparing the country for another potential interference of Russia in our affairs.”

“Right now the message the Russians are getting is they’re not going to pay much of a price for this. Indeed, their best spokesperson is the President of the United States, because he’s the one casting doubt on what they did,” he said.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.