Adam Schiff Explains Himself

Plus: A mildly contrarian take on Paul Gosar

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Even by the standards of our polarized politics, there’s something especially polarizing about Adam Schiff.

TFG is obsessed with giving him juvenile nicknames: “pencil neck,” “Shifty Schiff,” “Little Adam Schiff,” “crooked Adam Schiff,” and even “Adam Schitt.”

But as Gabe Schoenfeld noted yesterday, Trump is not alone in taking shots at the congressman. Even anti-Trump conservatives have joined in the chorus of anti-Schiffism. Eli Lake says the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is a “showman playing the role of statesman.” Jonah Goldberg calls him a “dishonorable and dishonest hack” with a “gift for flinging hyperpartisan innuendo while seeming to be a studious and serious legislator.”

Well, here’s a chance for you to make up your own mind.

On today’s Bulwark podcast, I talk with Schiff about his new book, “Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could.”

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You can listen to the whole conversation later today, but here is a partial transcript of Schiff’s comments on the GOP, his congressional colleagues, the politics of impeachment, and his response to criticism of his handling of the Steele Dossier.

The Republican Party:

This is a large part of why I wanted to write the book because there had been a lot written about the Trump White House by people who had left that White House, but not very much written about what was going on in Congress: Why so many people in the Republican Party ended up betraying their ideology, their values, their belief system, their morality, in the service of this unethical man, and I wanted to write about how that happens.

And you know, what I learned all too painfully was, it happens one day at a time, one small concession at a time in the beginning, one small lie, followed by a demand for a bigger lie and a bigger concession, a bigger moral lapse, followed by another until you know, these folks that I admired and respected, because I believe that they believe what they were saying, had given themselves up so completely to Donald Trump and his immorality.

On Devin Nunes: 

He once said of the Tea Party, at the beginning of the Tea Party movement, that they were lemmings in suicide vests. He was not an ideologue, he was more of a kind of a John Boehner, a Paul Ryan, what I would describe as kind of an old school moderate Republican.

But he got close to Trump during the campaign — Trump asked him to serve on the transition team. And when it became necessary to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election, in their efforts to help elect Donald Trump and the Trump campaigns on complicity in that, he wanted to still maintain that relationship with Trump and conduct investigation at the same time, and was not able to do both, which would have been difficult for anyone.

But it culminated disastrously in what's … become known as the Midnight Run. And he was forced to step down from the committee as a result of that kind of skullduggery with the White House,  and it was a really a formative moment for him. It ended up bonding him to MAGA world, because MAGA world was the only one offering a life raft at that point of disgrace. And he's been a part of that world ever since  — it's been a rather shocking transformation and quite a sad one, from my point of view.

Jim Jordan: 

For Jim Jordan, it's all a game. It's like a sporting event. There's your team and our team and you do what you need to do. You cheat, you break the rules, it doesn't matter so long as you win.

And I've always had the sense from Jim Jordan that the ideology doesn't matter at all. That if he were benched by his own team, he would just as soon play for the Democrats.

The Big Lie

What I learned in the impeachment trial was that there was no problem with the remedy of impeachment … I don't recommend, for example, we turn impeachment into a majority vote and make the Congress into some kind of a parliament. But none of it works if people don't give their oath meaning, if they're not guided by ideas of right and wrong if they won't recognize the truth and ignore it. None of it really works.

And right now, a majority of the Republican conference will not recognize the obvious truth about an election. And if you if you persuade people — as they're doing — that we cannot rely on our elections to decide who should govern, then what is left, but violence? … The whole Big Lie is an invitation to violence.

Kevin McCarthy

McCarthy has no independent judgment apart from Donald Trump. But also, McCarthy recognizes that .. the QAnon wing of the Trump GOP is now too large to be forsaken. And should they turn on QAnon, and QAnon turn on them, they feel that they may lose their opportunity to succeed in the Midterms.

So they're …  willing to get in bed with the devil if they have a chance at power.

The Steele Dossier

[I read him a portion of Gabe Schoenfeld’s review of his book, where he writes about Schiff’s handling of he Steele dossier: It must also be acknowledged that Schiff has made mistakes in the course of his investigations…. Schiff repeated elements of the now-discredited “Steele dossier” in a congressional hearing, leveling charges against the Trump aide Carter Page that did not pan out and for which Schiff never apologized.”]

I'd read the review, which I thought was a very good and fair review. I do take issue with his criticism in that respect, it won't surprise you in a couple of respects.

First of all, there were serious flaws in the FISA applications on Carter Page, which I have acknowledged many times.

But the idea that we could have known at the time of the FISA applications, that a lawyer, for example, who apparently doctored an email had done so, — that we could have foreseen what the inspector general two years later would learn after hundreds of interviews, is simply to credit people with a crystal ball that it's impossible to have. Now, Carter Page, one of the reasons I don't come to Carter Page's defense, is because I think he lied when he came and testified to us. And this was also someone who described himself as representing the Kremlin at one point.

So I don't find him a particularly sympathetic figure. But nonetheless there were serious flaws in his FISA application. And as we would later learn, serious flaws — and a lot of FISA applications having nothing to do with the Russia investigation or Carter Page, — which needs to be remedied.

In terms of my referring to the dossier, what you're referring to there is, at the very beginning of the Russia investigation, I said that the allegations of this former and respected British Intelligence Officer Christopher Steele, should be investigated. And I think it would be irresponsible if we ignored it, given his reputation, which at the time was very positive.

But I want to say also, what we would discover was far worse than what was alleged in the dossier. And it was nothing but I think the relentless propaganda of Donald Trump with a "no collusion, no obstruction" that obscured that. But I would just for the interest of time, point out one very salient fact, which has been, I think, obliterated by the propaganda.

We did learn that Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was secretly meeting with an agent of Russian intelligence repeatedly, and providing Russian intelligence with internal campaign polling data and their strategy for key battleground states, while Russian intelligence was leading a clandestine social media and hacking and dumping campaign to help get Donald Trump elected.

Under anybody's definition that would be called collusion. And certainly if that kind of conduct had been engaged in by Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama or anybody else, the Republicans would be screaming collusion, and they'd be right.

We’ll post the whole interview later today. (Please consider subscribing to the Bulwark podcast if you don’t already do so.)

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A slightly contrarian take on Gosar

“Whatever you think of Paul Gosar’s anime video in isolation,” our former colleague John McCormack reminded us yesterday, “keep in mind that he showed his true colors earlier this year when he was the only congressman who spoke at a conference hosted by a vile bigot and Holocaust denier.”

In other words, Gosar is a serial offender and it shouldn’t haven’t take the latest cartoon buffoonery for the House to act on Gosar. McCormack wrote back in June:

Because even before this latest controversy, Gosar had made perfectly clear that he had no problem allying with — and thereby elevating — Fuentes, despite the latter’s open racism and anti-Semitism: He was the only elected member of Congress to speak at a conference organized by Fuentes in February.

The media and the Left frequently cry wolf about bigotry, but there should be no doubt about Fuentes. He once called a writer a “race traitor” because he “work[s] for Jews.” He opposes interracial marriage and has praised segregation….


Here’s something I wrote back in February:

Indulge me for a moment with a bit of ancient history from the Before Time.

Actually, it’s just two years ago.

In January 2019, House Republicans stripped Representative Steve King (R-Bigot) of his committee assignments, tossing him off the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees.

King had a long history of racism, but had stayed in the GOP’s good graces for years, and had even become something of a kingmaker in Iowa politics.

Mr. King, who has been an ally of President Trump on the border wall and other issues, has a long history of making racist remarks and insults about immigrants, but has not drawn rebukes from Republican leaders until recently. In November, top Iowa Republicans like Senator Charles E. Grassley endorsed Mr. King for re-election even after one House Republican official came out and denounced him as a white supremacist.

But King finally crossed the GOP’s invisible line when he gave an interview to the New York Times and said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

House Republican leaders, who were anxious “to appear tough on racism and contain damage,” moved fast. Four days after the interview was published, King’s committee assignments were gone, and his political career was effectively finished.

“This is not the first time we’ve heard these comments,” GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “That is not the party of Lincoln and it’s definitely not American.”

I tell the story of King to highlight (1) the contrast with the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene, (2) the political malpractice of last night’s vote, and (3) how rapidly the GOP is devolving.

To be sure this has been a looooong time coming. The 2019 GOP had already spent years indulging Donald Trump’s penchant for racism and conspiracy theories, and rationalizing his birtherism, his lies, and his cruelty.

But they apparently still had some lingering, residual instinct for political hygiene. Two years later, the GOP’s immune system to crazy has been completely destroyed.

On Wednesday, only two Republicans voted to censure Gosar. The rest of the caucus — 207 GOP representatives — voted against the measure.

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Quick Hits

1. Democrats, You Have One Job

In this morning’s Bulwark, some tough love from Mona Charen:

President Biden’s approval rating is averaging 41.5 percent now. Some of the generic ballot polling—Which party would you like to see in control?—is looking dire for the Democrats. The director of ABC News polling, Gary Langer, noted that among registered voters, 51 percent say they favor Republican control, while only 41 percent prefer the Democrats. That’s the largest advantage for Republicans since 1981. Thomas Edsall tallies more signs of discontent, such as Public Opinion Strategies polling showing that on matters of great concern to voters, Republicans are seen as more capable. On controlling inflation, 45 percent of voters trust Republicans, compared with 21 percent for the Democrats. The edge for Republicans on the economy is 45/27, and on handling crime Republicans are preferred 43/21. Edsall concludes that “Democrats shouldn’t panic, they should go into shock.”

2. Steve Bannon and MAGA Martyrdom

Historian Ron Radosh in today’s Bulwark:

Bannon spelled out his plans and strategy to me way back on November 12, 2013, at a book party held at his D.C. townhouse (the so-called “Breitbart Embassy”). “I’m a Leninist,” he told me as he introduced himself. He then went on, as I recounted in a 2016 Daily Beast article, to inform me that “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

If Bannon is sent to prison, he will presumably, if permitted, give prison interviews to all who request them: Fox News and OAN and Newsmax, talk-radio shows and right-wing podcasts, and of course the Trumpist websites like American Greatness, Breitbart News, and, the publication of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which in 2017 gave Bannon an award for “courage.” A committed Leninist fighter knows never to give up on the dream of revolution.

3. The Pattern of GOP Voter Fraud

Dennis Aftergut notes that in case after case from 2020, it turns out that Republicans were the ones misbehaving at the ballot box.

The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank, maintains a public database of ballot-fraud cases. A review of the database reveals an astonishing fact: In every listed indictment and conviction for voter fraud or other malfeasance in connection with the 2020 presidential general election, when the culprit’s political affiliation is known he or she turns out to be a Republican or “unabashed conservative.”

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Punishment enough.