Congressman Adam Schiff speaking at Northwestern's Cahn Auditorium on Oct. 3.RoundTable photo

Introduced as “the most important politician in the country today,” Congressman Adam Schiff gave the Richard Leopold Lecture on Oct. 3 in Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium.

The Democratic Congressman, who represents California’s 28th District and heads the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, spoke on “The Threat to Liberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.”

Looking toward the 2020 elections, Rep. Schiff said there are internal and external threats to fair outcomes. At home, he said, not every polling place with electronic voting machines also has the mechanism for a “paper trail” to ensure the votes are counted accurately.

In addition, he said, voters views about candidates and their decision on who to vote formight be influenced by deep fakes – photos and videos that look genuine but that have been altered to change the speech or facial nuances of the subject. Rep. Schiff referred to a recent video of House Speaker Nany Pelosi that had been altered to slow her speech to make her appear impaired as if by alcohol.

Deep fake technology, he said, is “utterly convincing but utterly fraudulent,” and technology to detect such alterations has not caught up with it.

Deep fake yields the “liars’ dividend – the biggest liars get the biggest dividend.”

Russia is not the only menace, Rep. Schiff said; other countries are more than willing to interfere with elections here and elsewhere.

President Donald Trump is doing little or nothing to safeguard elections here. Cabinet members, Rep. Schiff said, are afraid to bring up Russian or any outside interference, because the president would perceive that as a threat to his legitimacy.

What Pres. Trump should be doing, Rep. Schiff said, is mobilizing the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense to root out potential dangers and ensure that the 2020 elections are not vulnerable to outside interference.

While the upcoming elections are at risk, Rep. Schiff said, “what is at risk right now is the idea of America as champion of democracy and human rights.” The president’s words and actions have largely gone unchecked, and the reach of his concept of executive privilege is far more extensive than have other presidents believed.

“That there is no accountability is a very dangerous message for the president of the United States to have,” Rep. Schiff said. “When the history of this era is written, some of the most damning language will be reserved for the representatives who had a chance to stand up for this country but did nothing.”

The audience gave Rep. Schiff three standing ovations – one before he even began speaking.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...