Republicans are turning up the heat on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat known for his intense partisanship and recklessness. Neither quality speaks well of his fitness for his current role, imbued with significant power. A sober-minded member of Schiff's committee is calling on him to step down as chairman, while GOP leadership is pushing for him to be formally censured by the House. Nancy Pelosi will see to it that neither rebuke amounts to anything, but she should be concerned about how compromised Schiff's credibility is, as he will be one of the most public faces of the impeachment process (such as it exists) as it moves forward. On Wednesday, the New York Times revealed that the whistleblower in the Ukraine controversy reached out to Schiff's staff prior to filing his complaint days later:
The C.I.A. officer [future whistleblower] approached a House Intelligence Committee aide with his concerns about Mr. Trump only after he had had a colleague first convey them to the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Concerned about how that initial avenue for airing his allegations through the C.I.A. was unfolding, the officer then approached the House aide. In both cases, the original accusation was vague. The House staff member, following the committee’s procedures, suggested the officer find a lawyer to advise him and meet with an inspector general, with whom he could file a whistle-blower complaint. The aide shared some of what the officer conveyed to Mr. Schiff. The aide did not share the whistle-blower’s identity with Mr. Schiff, an official said.
Some conservatives had deduced, based on various clues in Schiff's actions leading up to the Ukraine story exploding into public view, that the chairman at least been given a heads-up in advance about what was coming. Those suspicions have now been confirmed -- and I can't help but wonder if the details relayed in the paragraph above represent the full extent of his involvement. This was my initial reaction to the Times story:
This was suspected. Now apparently confirmed. This doesn’t change the substance of the transcript & what was said. That’s on Trump. It does feed the storyline that this is fundamentally politically motivated / partisan. And Schiff lacks credibility already... https://t.co/tEC75oIfB0— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 2, 2019
I'd like to underscore the point about Trump and the substance of the allegation: On some level, all the process questions surrounding the whistleblower are moot because his core claims have been borne out by the facts. The transcript of the phone call in question confirms that President Trump did specifically ask the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, and as the whistleblower complaint charged, White House officials did relocate the account of this call to a server reserved for secret and highly sensitive national security matters (though this may not have been sinister, and was not unprecedented). I would add that reporting also confirms that Trump personally intervened to delay the payment of military aid to Kiev, temporarily overruling the unanimous advice of his own foreign policy and national security team (although it must also be noted that we don't know why he did so, and that the Ukrainians apparently didn't know about the delay, which is hard to square with a clean and damning 'quid pro quo' timeline).
What Trump did is clear, and he's doubling down on it, even though it was fundamentally improper and an abuse of his power (a majority of Americans believe this, with a super-majority calling his actions a matter of "serious" concern). How he went about it, as facts are gathered, could be the difference between condemnation-worthy misconduct and an impeachable offense. The hullabaloo over Schiff, the whistleblower, secondhand knowledge, etc. is part of the story (as are the Biden conflicts of interest, to which we'll return later), but those ancillary issues do not supplant the core questions about presidential conduct at the heart of the story. I disagree with some Trump defenders who say the president's actions are so harmless and irrelevant that the secondary and tertiary questions around this storm have become the 'real' story. Polling unambiguously demonstrates that voters do not agree that this is a nothingburger on Trump's end (unlike the Australia dud).
With that said, back to Schiff. He has been an irresponsible and untrustworthy figure throughout the Trump presidency, constantly over-promising on Russian 'collusion,' and foolishly refusing to back down even when the Mueller report pantsed him. His little stunt at a recent House Intelligence Committee hearing, in which he twisted the Trump-Zelensky transcript into his own, exaggerated "parody" version, was unserious and profoundly unwise. And his staff's apparent involvement with the whistleblower prior to a formal complaint being issued does give the appearance of a partisan set-up. But was it?
I am told by spokespeople for both @SenatorBurr and @MarkWarner that it would be ***standard practice*** for intel committee to tell a potential whistleblower to hire counsel and file a complaint with an agency IG or the IC IG.— Olivia Gazis (@Olivia_Gazis) October 2, 2019
**Bipartisan. Both parties say this.**
I'll reiterate that I have doubts about whether the Times-reported sequence represents the full extent of what happened, but based on the evidence we have, Schiff and his office appear to have handled at least this portion of the drama by the book. I do wonder why the whistleblower only approached Chairman Schiff, as opposed to Chairman Burr, whose Senate committee has been far more professional and nonpartisan in its work than its Schiff-led House counterpart; recall that the IG flagged indications that the whistleblower did have a political motivation, and therefore may have felt more comfortable approaching the staff of a fellow Trump opponent. Then again, if Schiff played by the rules here, why tap dance and mislead the public about it?
Is he apologetic about his choice to mislead (which looks incriminating), or is he spinning? It seems like Schiffworld can't decide which approach to adopt, which -- once again -- highlights the problem with Schiff: He is not to be trusted or taken seriously (Update: Schiff has been awarded 'Four Pinocchios' from the Washington Post's fact checker for this slippery, mendacious performance). Trust and seriousness are important characteristics for any leader who is a top figure in a process as somber and consequential as removing a duly-elected president from office. In short, while Nancy Pelosi will refuse to allow GOP sniping to take down her influential chairman, his continued service in that capacity is a gift to the president and his defenders:
. @samstein and his fellow liberals should be more pissed at Schiff for his constant lying and antics than anybody. His improv version of Trump convo and lies about whistleblower contact have been a gift to Trump, and were totally unforced. https://t.co/1f0JI27SeV— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) October 3, 2019
I'll leave you with this, on Biden: